The great Nicolas Roeg‘s 1973 release, Don’t Look Now is an expertly crafted horror/thriller. A now iconic piece of cinema, Roeg’s film not only delivers on eerie atmosphere, but it also has serious dramatic and emotional heft. It might be a great genre movie, but it’s also an impressive example of how movies can work on multiple levels.
Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1971 short story of the same name, the film follows John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) as they try to rebuild their lives following the tragic death of their daughter. In Venice, where John is restoring a Church, the couple meet a pair of odd sisters ((Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania) who tell them that their dead daughter is still with them. This brings John and Laura closer together, but it soon causes friction in their relationship as they begin to see their daughter walking the Venice waterways. Will they reunite with her, or is there something more sinister happening?
Roeg’s film brings together a lot of elements – gothic horror, thriller, drama, religious iconography, loss and the afterlife are just a few and he merges them to create a film that has a dreamlike quality. He plays with time, weaving through past, present and future to craft a powerful representation of the human psyche. In lesser-hands the film could have collapsed under such weighty themes, but Roeg supports it by groundling the film in a beautifully dark reality. He’s aided by Sutherland and Christie, who were at the height of their ‘70s movie star powers. They along with cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond, composer Pino Donaggio and editor Graeme Clifford all do sterling work, delivering a film which is a beautiful to listen to as it is to look at. This is filmmaking at its finest.
Elevated horror is something which is now often discussed, a buzz-phrase to describe horror for adults. Don’t Look Now is an excellent example of taking horror tropes and turning them into something which works well as a drama about relationships. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are exemplary in the lead roles, bringing real vulnerability to the characters, something which helps sell the supernatural elements of the film. These elements never seem forced and they sit will within the tangible world that Roeg has created. This is what makes Don’t Look Now work.
Not only one of the finest examples of horror cinema ever crafted, Don’t Look Now stands as one of the greatest films of the 1970s – a decade littered with wonderful movies.