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January 9, 2014

Don’t Look Now

by Franz Patrick


Don’t Look Now (1973)
★★ / ★★★★

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) stay indoors while their son and daughter, Johnny (Nicholas Salter) and Christine (Sharon Williams), play outdoors. Soon enough, Christine gets a little too close to the pond while attempting to retrieve a toy and falls in. She is already underwater when John gets an ominous feeling that their idyllic Sunday has gone terribly wrong.

Some time has passed since Laura and John moved to Venice. While in a restaurant, Laura come across two women (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania) where the blind one claims that Christine’s spirit lingers next to the married couple.

“Don’t Look Now,” based on Daphne Du Maurier’s short story and screenplay by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant, shows its central couple attempting to exorcise their grief over a loss of a child through a vague but possible supernatural phenomenon.

With movies like this, the suspense is embedded in the details. The more it shows, more questions are brought up. Its curious middle portion, which begins when John starts seeing a little girl in red plastic mac, the same clothing that his daughter died in, running around the city, forces us to look a little closer and question every character’s motivation. The events are so strange that perhaps Laura and John’s sanities should be questioned.

The picture offers no subtitles when people speak Italian. In a way, it works to its advantage because I began to feel as frustrated as John. No one is able to provide him definite answers: only possibilities, more questions, and dead ends. John’s confusion as he navigates through the labyrinthine Venetian alleys reflects my state of mind as I attempted to solve the puzzle.

I feel the need to single out the sex scene between Christie and Sutherland. While it does not have anything to do with the mystery, I found it as well-crafted as it was erotic. I loved the way that sex is constantly interrupted by the couple getting ready to go out for dinner. The manner in which the two actors hold and grab at each other convince us that their characters have been through a lot good things as well as a lot of bad things. We believe they are a married couple who are sad, angry, and frustrated. Yet they are making it through each day because they have one another.

Because of that scene, which might have felt or looked cheap under less capable direction, even though we do not always understand why the characters do the things they do later on to the point where we doubt their intentions, they hold our interest.

Nevertheless, the picture needs more cutting and sharper editing. In some of the more would-be horrific scenes, like the image of the dead girl’s body being placed on top of the color red eventually taking over a photograph, I found it trying too hard to be creepy or unsettling that it is almost amateur. It was neither scary nor intriguing. The same technique is used in sudden revelations, accompanied by sounds of bells and other harsh sounds. Instead of being mysterious or eerie, it ends up looking cheap and dated.

Directed by Nicolas Roeg, “Don’t Look Now” is most enthralling when it shows simple but odd images designed to establish increasing levels of suspense and unease. It works mainly as an atmospheric drama but not as a horror picture that lingers on the mind. The techniques are not inspired enough—or extreme enough—to warrant serious contemplation.

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