Blog Directory CineVerse: Code red horror

Code red horror

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Some of the best horror films of recent vintage thematically focus on grief and emotional anguish related to the death of a loved one. Prime examples include Hereditary, The Babadook, and Midsommar. But these topics were previously explored, to great effect, in Nicholas Roeg‘s suspenseful arthouse classic from 1973 Don’t Look Now. We applied the CineVerse lens to this picture last week and made several key observations (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What did you find interesting, unexpected, surprising, or memorable about Don’t Look Now?

  • Even though most of the film takes place in Venice, the filmmakers choose not to use subtitles, effectively putting us in John’s shoes and helping us better appreciate his feeling of cultural alienation and inability to communicate.
    • The city becomes a character unto itself, effectively establishing the mysterious mood and enigmatic ambiance necessary to disorient our characters and convey an atmosphere of deterioration and ancient secrets. Interestingly, this isn’t a travelogue reel of popular tourist attractions in Venice; the city appears underpopulated, architecturally alienating, and offputting as a remnant of the Old World.
  • Director Roeg is quite innovative and experimental in his editing tactics, often using wordless montage and infusing scenes with flashback and flashforward shots that temporally blend the visuals and create greater emotional depth and resonance. Ponder the filmmakers’ disjointed style that seems to skew time, particularly during the lovemaking scene; we see Laura and John engaging in physical intimacy, but the shots are interspersed with presumably future images of them getting dressed and dining out. Roeg also employs mobile camera shots and zooms to create authenticity and immediacy in his compositions. Some may feel this visual approach is pretentious and overtly arty, but the method is fairly unique and distinctive among other directors, for better or worse.
    • Film reviewer Richard Scheib wrote: “His work is characterized by elliptical non-linear editing and the use of random images edited into the narrative, a frequent fascination with sexual obsessions and a recurring portrait of cultural alienation.”
    • Roeg chooses to emphasize visuals and pure cinema to tell the story, sacrificing dialogue and exposition in the process and forcing the viewer to pay closer attention to better understand the characters and situations.
  • The sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie is, surprisingly tender, loving, and compassionate – not titillating or exploitative. The viewer can interpret this scene as the grief-stricken couple attempting to conceive another child, or, at very least, expressing their unconditional love for one another physically despite their emotional traumas. Not only is this sequence longer than expected, but it is relatively graphic and visually candid, requiring the actors to expose themselves and engage in positions and sexual simulations that look like real intercourse.
  • Arguably, the ending is unsatisfying when you consider that it’s not very plausible for the serial killer on the loose to be an adult little person in a red raincoat – least of all, one who could successfully slash John’s throat. 
    • On the other hand, it’s ironically satisfying that John’s death “can be regarded as a self-fulfilling prophecy: It is John’s premonitions of his death that set in motion the events leading up to his death,” wrote Roger Ebert.

Major themes

  • The power of grief and psychological trauma. This couple is forever haunted by the tragedy of their daughter’s drowning and, although they don’t speak about it, they must feel culpable because the death could have been avoided with greater supervision. The recurring motif of the color red, particularly the reappearance of a childlike figure in a red raincoat, emphasizes how inescapable this grief is.
  • Language barriers and the inability to effectively communicate. It’s appropriate that this story primarily occurs in Venice, a foreign location for John and Laura, two fish out of water who are trying to maintain a normal, productive life despite the recent tragedy.
    • It’s also interesting that the women in this tale can communicate better than the men. Consider how John, the bishop, the hotel manager, and the police inspector have a harder time connecting and making themselves clear to one another, while Laura appears to sync well with Heather and Wendy as well as the matriarch at her son’s boarding school.

Similar works

  • Films by Alfred Hitchcock, including The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, and Frenzy
  • The Changeling
  • Hereditary and The Babadook
  • Audrey Rose
  • Who Saw Her Die?
  • The Psychic
  • The Haunting of Julia
  • The Appointment
  • The Fourth Man
  • The Ring

Other films by Nicholas Roeg

  • Performance
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth
  • The Witches

  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP