Film of the week: Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)
Nicolas Roeg’s haunting masterpiece retains its place in cinema as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s short story, Don’t Look Now is a chilling tale of grief and the supernatural.
‘Nothing is what it seems,’ says John Baxter in the opening scene of the film, aptly summarising the film’s premise. Portrayed by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, John and Laura Baxter relocate to Venice after the tragic loss of their daughter, Christine, where John is commissioned to help restore a church. While dining in a quaint restaurant, John and Laura are introduced to two English sisters, Heather and Wendy. Heather, who is blind, becomes fascinated with the couple and claims to see Christine sitting between them. Laura is overwhelmed that her daughter’s presence is with them and eagerly forms a relationship with the sisters to connect with Christine. John, however, is adamant it is all a fabrication and doesn’t believe in second sight. Heather later reveals to Laura that John, like herself, has kinetic gifts, which explains his ability to foresee the death of his daughter at the beginning of the film and the events which follow.
Upon second and even third viewing of Don’t Look Now, the number of significant details become more apparent and revealing. There is a beautiful shot in the opening sequence, as we see Laura and John’s daughter playing innocently beside a pond, unaware of the danger lurking. She is wearing a bright red mac which is visible in the waters reflection, both the colour red and water a recurring motif throughout the film, and perfectly captured through Anthony B. Richmond’s striking cinematography. Nicolas Roeg’s colour palate is filled with dark colours, with bright red being the most significant exception and present from the outset. The same colour appears sporadically throughout the film and often unexpectedly. Bright red often appears in scenes with John, who perhaps is inadvertently unaware of this significance, but a telling sign that he may in fact have ‘the gift.’
Venice serves as the setting of the film and plays an integral role in the plot. A city immersed in water, Venice is far from the tourist destination usually depicted on screen. Nicolas Roeg’s Venice is a deserted city with dark alleyways, canals and religious imagery that is contrasted with death and supernatural forces. It is also a fitting location for a couple who recently lost their daughter in a drowning accident. It is impossible to forget events of the past, especially when constantly surrounded by water.
Don’t Look Now is not only a harrowing portrayal of grief, it is a film about mistaken identity, and the supernatural. It is many things, but then again, nothing is what it seems.