Rosemary’s Baby was Roman Polanski’s first US film, and is the film that launched Mia Farrow and that haircut into stardom. It’s based on a novel by Ira Levin, and apparently Polanksi followed the novel almost to the letter as he was unaware that he could take any liberties with the source material. Ah Hollywood, if only you had retained that innocence…
Farrow plays the titular Rosemary – and the film follows her and her actor-husband (played by John Cassavetes) as they decide to move into a new building (complete with horror-staple warnings about it having a spooooooky history) and deal with nosy neighbours, suicides, and Rosemary’s pregnancy and the impending birth of their child.
Without wanting to give too much away, Rosemary gradually starts to suspect that all is not right with her neighbours – and she starts to genuinely fear for her life, and that of her unborn child.
Actually, fuck it. This film has been out for over 40 years and I don’t think I am really ruining anything is I say that Rosemary thinks that her neighbours are a coven of witches and that they want her child for a sacrifice.
The genius of the film, and the reason I had a knot in my stomach for the majority of it, is that because we only see events from Rosemary’s perspective we are constantly questioning whether or not her suspicions are true, or whether they are the product of her paranoid mind. In a scene where Rosemary is trying to convince one of the few outside-parties in her life, I still found myself not quite believing her despite everything I had already seen.
Despite being billed as horror film, Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t really fit the conventions of the genre. There aren’t really any ‘jump’ moments, and most of the film takes place in very normal surroundings, and in the daylight. What Polanski does however, is just keep dripping fear and dread into every scene – like some kind of Chinese Water Torture. Towards the end of the film I felt suffocated not by unexpected shocks and frights, but by the horror of the situation apparently being confirmed to me. This was compounded by an extraordinarily performance from Farrow who not only uses her acting chops, but physically transforms before our very eyes.
Maybe this is a personal thing but despite not being a religious person I have always been most disturbed by the glut of films that appeared in the 60s/70s that dealt with the religious supernatural, and the human followers of these practices. I’m talking about classics like The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as a much under-looked ‘favourite’ of mine Race with the Devil (starring Peter Fonda). Actually, I may write a top-5 ‘Devil-Worship’ films in the near future…
I have a few minor quibbles – it feels a little dated in parts, and there’s a couple of moments in the build-up that just feel silly – an example being when Rosemary and Guy spend their first night in the new house making love (their words) on a wooden floor before finishing their dinner. But overall the screenplay is brilliant in the art of making sure that every word counts, and means something to the story – and despite being about 20 minutes too long in my opinion, there is not a lot of waste onscreen.
So, a brilliant film made by an exceptional craftsman. Then why do I feel like I never want to watch it ever again? I’m not a believer in the supernatural, but something about this film just felt wrong, and almost other-worldly. Don’t watch it just before bed.
And don’t have nightmares…