‘The churches belong to God, but he doesn’t seem to care about them…’
I’ve spoken extensively about cinematic blind spots before, mainly in my new year’s resolution film lists that I make every year and then invariably never watch. As a so-called horror aficionado, it is pretty unforgivable that I’ve never seen Don’t Look Now. Widely regarded as one of the best British horror films, Nicholas Roeg’s masterpiece was released as a double feature with The Wicker Man in a move that must have provided plenty of sleepless nights for all involved. Both films play on that feeling of otherness, that uncanny belief that something isn’t quite right. The whole world is sneering behind your back for reasons that you can’t quite fathom. Twisting, smirking faces are glimpsed out of the corner of your eye but disappear before you can properly identify them. Anyway, enough about teaching, let’s get on to Don’t Look Now…
Following the horrifying death of their child, the Baxters, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland), attempt to come to terms with their grief in the labyrinthine canals of Venice, against the backdrop of John attempting to renovate a crumbling old church and a series of dead bodies being dumped in the canal.
Even at nearly fifty years old, Don’t Look Now is still unlike any other horror film I have seen. The extreme close ups and quick edits ensure that the viewer can never quite get a grasp on what is happening. The arty flashbacks and obscene non sequiturs only add to the sense of disorientation. A pair of grounded and believable performances from Christie and Sutherland hold the whole thing together, while everything else around them is falling apart. While comparisons can be drawn with other occult thrillers such as Rosemary’s Baby, the aforementioned Wicker Man and The Omen, Don’t Like Now is its own beast. Its own waking nightmare. Roeg manages to strip Venice of all its ethereal beauty, leaving behind a hideous facade made up of leering gargoyles and murky water. Having been to Venice, I can attest to its ability to engulf you in shadows and dead ends with one wrong turn. Roeg captures this perfectly to the point where Venice almost becomes a tertiary character, always obstructing and discombobulating the Baxters.
Don’t Look Now is far from an easy watch. It’s confusing, intricate and challenging, but as visceral horror experience, nobody can deny its malevolent power.