The late 1960s and the 1970s were a really important time for the horror genre. It was a time when new and exciting things were being introduced to this type of film making that really breathed new life into a genre of movies that didn’t yet reach its full potential. Auteur film makers were dabbling with new ways to make movies, and one of the most important experiments for horror was Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Based off of a story written by Daphne du Maurier, whose stories were used by Hitchcock for Rebecca and The Birds, Don’t Look Now was almost destined to succeed before it was even made, and after its completion it has become a cinematic landmark.
After their daughter (Sharon Williams) drowns in a pond behind their house, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) Baxter take a trip to Venice where John has been hired to help restore a church. While there, Laura meets two sisters, Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Heather is blind but claims to have psychic abilities and tells Julie that she sees their daughter with them in Venice, and that she has a message of warning for John. John refuses to believe a word that anyone says about their daughter, firmly believing her to be dead and gone. As time goes on in Venice, the couple begin experiencing more strange and often dangerous supernatural events, while the city is also stricken by a mysterious and elusive serial killer that can strike anywhere and at anytime.
Don’t Look Now is a subtle trip down the cinematic rabbit hole that you may not even realize you’re going down. That’s probably the most brilliant aspect of this movie. While it’s on, I felt like I was watching a very straightforward psychological thriller, and in that sense, I felt a little disappointed as I was watching it. I wanted to see something that was really going to blow my mind as much as everyone says it would. It wasn’t until the movie was over that I realized that I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention as I thought I was. There are so many clues hidden in plain sight as to what is really going on, and if you aren’t a super perceptive viewer, they may go right over your head. After thinking about the movie and doing some research on it, the way Roeg made this film is truly remarkable and it demands a second viewing to really appreciate how he blends time, genres, and hides clues for you to find.
What also makes Don’t Look Now a successful horror movie is the creeping feelings that lurk behind every dark corner and worried glance. There’s so much paranoia and grief that is caked on the entire narrative, and that combination makes for a very suspenseful ride. Don’t Look Now is comparable to Rosemary’s Baby, in that there are many times where you and the characters really have no idea what’s actually going on. Sometimes you may not even realize this confusion, but trust me, you will be confused at certain points. This a sign of a great horror movie. If you watch it and feel your hairs standing on end, find yourself breathing just a little faster, or thinking a little harder, you know you’re watching something worth while. This sort of true suspense is what’s lacking in the “spooky ghost” movies that have flooded the market as of late.
Having the story take place in Venice is also a fantastic idea. This isn’t the same Venice that you see in movies like The Tourist. No way. Far from it. This is the back streets of Venice in the winter, when things are gray, murky, and dead. The water also seems to be posing some sort of ominous threat or holding some unknown secret. Meanwhile, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine alley ways that sometimes lead to nowhere. Venice transcends just being a location, and becomes something of a side character with its own living and breathing personality.
Don’t Look Now has firmly made a name for itself as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but it would be unfair to just call this a horror movie. It’s a thriller, a mystery, and a family drama all rolled into one. This blending of time and genre set this movie above many, but the attention to detail and suspense is what truly make this film great. You may not realize how intricate it is upon your first viewing of it, but after thinking about it and watching it again, you’ll be completely entranced by its mystery.