I blame Final Girl for this week’s post. I watched 1973’s Don’t Look Now and I loved it. Now I’ve been evangelizing to all of my friends. All three of them. This is really hard to do without giving away the somewhat notorious twist ending. I won’t reveal it in this post because I want you to enjoy it the way that I did. I should probably note that if you ever saw Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments then you may be familiar with the twist already.
In short, the movie’s about a couple whose daughter drowns tragically. The husband and wife move to Venice for a working vacation while the husband restores a church. They may or may not be haunted by the ghost of the daughter. There’s also a serial killer stalking the waterways of Venice in the background.
But it’s so, so much more than these details. It’s a successful horror movie, in the sense that it’s tense and creepy, but it’s also a successful movie in general. It’s one of the movies that I would show to my friends that aren’t into horror to show them that there’s more to the genre than Freddy Kreuger’s infinite reincarnations.
The movie starts with a serene opening and gentle music. Despite the rain, everything looks so lovely that it’s impossible to believe that anything bad could happen.
Laura (Julie Christie) and John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) are happily married and enjoying the seventies lifestyle of white-people afros and giant shapeless sweater dresses.
As I said, their daughter drowns.
The scene is graphic and Donald Sutherland’s reaction as John is amazing. You know he’s not going to be able to save his daughter but you really really want him to succeed. It’s within these first minutes that certain themes in the movie are established.
First, there’s water everywhere. The daughter drowns and then they end up in the wateriest city ever, Venice. Water is slowly corroding the church that John’s renovating.
There’s glass everywhere and it’s always breaking. Their son shatters a mirror when he accidentally rides over it on his bicycle before the daughter even drowns.
Once they’re in Venice, they encounter the creepiest blind psychic ever, who tells Laura that their daughter is around them and is happy, and that John’s life is in danger if he stays in Venice.
Laura faints after meeting the psychic and there’s more broken glasses and spilled water aplenty.
I don’t think I’m describing this well at all, but I can’t think of any other way to write about this movie. It’s all done way more subtly than that Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Buffy has that dream before her birthday where her mom breaks a plate and asks Buffy if she’s ready. And then Willow tells her that the monkey has no pants in French.
There’s a scene that I really like afterwards, when Laura’s in the hospital after she faints. She’s in this room that has a window in it adjacent to some childrens’ room and the kids are all playing.
It’s sad and sweet at the same time. On the one hand, it’s like a glimpse into the life Laura left behind, a house full of kids playing. But she also professes comfort from the psychic’s message about her daughter.
John is concerned about the psychic’s influence over his wife. Also, since before his daughter died he’s been catching glimpses of a figure in a coat similar to his daughter’s. It even appears in one of his slides before his daughter dies.
What or who is this figure? Is it a warning? Laura returns to England because their son has an accident at his boarding school. John remains in Venice and we slowly see him beginning to come undone. He’s fixated on the psychic and her sister, thinks he sees his wife with them, and becomes quite paranoid and fearful. It doesn’t help that a scaffolding accident at the church almost proves the psychic correct.
I liked the movie because it was slow-building, tense, and I cared about the characters. The last few movies I’ve watched have all suffered from characters that I couldn’t care about. The writing and the excellent acting of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland combine to create characters that you become invested in and who you want to be content.
You really can’t talk about Don’t Look Now without discussing the sex scene. The movie is pretty famous for having a pretty long and graphic sex scene. And by graphic I mean that we see Donald Sutherland’s butt multiple times. It lacks the trashy aspect of a lot of contemporary sex scenes in movies. I think it’s because the lighting isn’t sensational and the actors look like regular people. You know that if this movie were cast today it would probably be Angeline Jolie and her protuberant forehead vein that shows up when she acts upset and, I don’t know, some generically hot Hollywood guy. Anyway, the scene is also interspersed with shots of the couple going about their daily routine, getting dressed for a dinner out. In a way it builds and intimacy between the viewer and the couple. That’s pretty much all I want to say about the scene because I think that it gets way more attention than it should when the movie as a whole should be considered. Oh, except that it does suffer from some unfortunate seventies flute music. I guess I should be grateful that it wasn’t being played by some guy’s nose like in Beyond the Door.
This movie pleasantly reminded me of one of my favorite slasher movies, Alice, Sweet Alice. Both have mysterious, slicker-clad figures and both feature plots where things aren’t what they seem.
This movie’s a little bit of a ghost movie, a little bit of a slasher, but they go together well, like the chocolate and vanilla ice cream in Neapolitan ice cream and we can ignore the strawberry.