Watching the Blu-Ray release of Nick Roeg’s classic horror is a bitter-sweet experience; sweet because the film is more than worthy of a high-definition re-mastering, and bitter because it points to the current lack of quality in the genre. They certainly don’t make them like they used to.
Don’t Look Now is a film about a couple, Laura and John Baxter, (played by Donald Sutherland and the radiant Julie Christie) whose young daughter drowns in a pond on their estate. Without lingering on their grief, the film jumps to Venice, where John’s job sees him restoring a church. They meet a mysterious pair of sisters, one of whom is psychic and comforts Laura by saying that their dead daughter is happy. John, meanwhile, refuses to believe this and bottles up his grief, even as he gets increasingly plagued by disturbing signs that his life might be in danger.
What makes the film unique is its subversion of what many people would now think of as horror. Despite its explicit focus on supernatural and psychic processes, it is essentially a melancholy portrait of grief. As is the tendency with Nick Roeg, much of what we see in the film is there to be interpreted – by both the characters in the film and by us, the audience.
A haunting atmosphere is created by small events – a window blowing open, a mysterious red-hooded figure running into the shadows, John recognising a place that he’s never been to before – that evoke a sense of foreboding unless the main characters happen to acknowledge these mysterious happenings. The more John attempts to dismiss these forces, the more prominent they get, increasingly suggesting that he’s edging towards his doom.
Using Venice as a backdrop is perfectly suited to this psychological horror. Traditionally seen as a great romantic city, in Don’t Look Now it becomes a wintry, decaying labyrinth for the characters to get lost in. It serves as a gauntlet for John’s suppressed grief, urging him – and the viewer – to connect the various signs and symbols it throws at him so that he can come to terms with the death of his daughter, rather than be destroyed by it.
Don’t Look Now is an intelligent puzzle of a horror film that burns slowly up until its nightmarish climax. The sombre aesthetic may not be one that fully shows off the Blu-ray format, but its restoration shows appropriate respect to a film that should inspire horror filmmakers looking to push the boundaries of a stagnating genre.
A decent selection of extras includes a series of interviews, audio commentary by Nick Roeg, an honorary ‘compressed’ version of the film by Danny Boyle and an 20-minute ‘looking back’ documentary; essential for those willing to be challenged when watching horror films.
Best scene: The chilling – and inevitable – climax.
Best performance: Sutherland and Christie are a great pairing as the young, troubled couple.
Watch this if you liked: Rosemary’s Baby, Walkabout