Friday, October 1, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Rated R (for language and brief nudity)

Directed by Roman Polanski

Mia Farrow
John Cassavetes
Ruth Gordon
Sidney Blackmer

Polanski's Rosemary's Baby is an extremely faithful adaption of Ira Levin's novel of the same name, published in 1967. It centers on Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), the meek wife of a struggling actor, Guy (John Cassavetes). They jump at the chance to move into an apartment at the beautiful old Bramford, despite the building's sordid history. The one downside is the nosy elderly couple that lives across the hall. Guy becomes very fond of Minnie and Roman Castevet(right around the time his career starts to look up), but Rosemary is unsure. She is delighted to find out she is pregnant, but increasing more suspicious of her neighbors as they take a decidedly unnatural interest in the baby's well-being. As her pregnancy progresses, things become more and more strange, but there seems to be no one for Rosemary to turn to. She becomes convinced that the Castevets are out to harm her baby, even as her husband and friends begin to question her sanity.

Polanski has a great knack for creating a paranoid feel. The Woodhouses' ability to hear their neighbors through the wall starts out as humorous, but steadily takes on a more sinister feel. When Rosemary is helping Minnie wash dishes after their first meal together, she looks over her shoulder to see smoke wafting through the living room as her husband and Roman discuss unheard matters. The shot is off-center, which is a time-honored director's trick to make the audience unsettled. Rosemary's first inkling of trouble is evident when Guy announces he plans to return to the Castevets' apartment and he encourages her to stay home. It reinforces the unease she felt while he and Roman were talking. When Minnie and her friend, Lara-Louise, stop by unexpectedly, Rosemary is initally irritated, but quickly becomes alarmed when Minnie gives her an elaborate filligree charm filled with something called "tannis root". She has seen this charm before, and the last person who wore it is dead. After Minnie hands it to her (clearly avoiding looking at her, as though she is ashamed), Rosemary stares wide-eyed at the charm and in a choked voice, says, "It's lovely."

The film builds tension slowly, but when the Woodhouses decide to have a romantic evening hoping to conceive a child, Rosemary experiences a terrifying and surrealistic dream that appears to have been designed by Salvador Dali himself. This is the turning point and after that night, nothing is the same for Rosemary.

As most films do from this era, it seems dated, but the beautiful 60s fashions still seem chic, especially with the popularity of "Mad Men". The improvements made to the apartment after the Woodhouses move in are still fashionable too, in a Mod way. I would have loved to live there myself, without the Satanists of course.

Farrow is pitch perfect as Rosemary. She begins as a happy housewife who adores her husband, but by the end of the movie she denigrates into a paranoid waif suspicious of everyone who crosses her path. Her thin frame helps make Rosemary's decline in health realistic and she seems genuinely and increasingly frightened throughout the film. Cassavetes is excellent as Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary's selfish and unlikable husband. He is quick to make fun of others and callously diffident to his wife. It is not such a far stretch to imagine he'd sell his own soul (and his child) to further his career.

It is Gordon that truly shines in the film however. Her portrayal of Minnie Castevet definitely deserved the Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress. Gordon's nasal New York accent and blurred lipstick made her character come to life. She is initially annoying (and nosy!), but seems innocuous enough. A classic moment: when Guy fears that Rosemary is awake during a ritual, Minnie says, "She don't see. As long as she ate the mouse, she can't see nor hear. She's like dead. Now, sing." Even in the midst of a Satanic rite, Gordon's portrayal never waivers. Minnie is still the nagging New York housewife. It is this sense of normalcy in the midst of evil that makes the outcome of the film so diabolical.

My favorite part of this film is the beautiful cinematography. Polanski uses light to accentuate the mood of the scene and the colors are gorgeous. Films of this era with European directors usually have this kind of saturated camera work and Polanski's film is no exception.

Fright Rating: 1 gasp out of a possible five

The film has no gore and no real dicernable scares; it is all about suspense. Rosemary's Baby is a classic, and a must-watch for film buffs and horror movie fans. (Even though it's a classic, it's still rated R, so it's not for children.)

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