Don't Look Now

Starring: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland Directed by: Nicolas Roeg

Venice is a great setting for a thriller.  You never know what's going to pop out of the canals, break free from the gargoyles adorning the architecture, or haunt the churches.

Actually, none of that happens in Don't Look Now, where one of the scariest things about the film was Donald Sutherland's moustache.  However, the film itself was rather good.  Released in 1973, the movie focuses on John Baxter (Sutherland) and his wife Laura (Julie Christie).  In the midst of an afternoon at home – John reviewing photo slides of churches with stained glass windows, Laura inside as well, and their kids playing happily in the yard - tragedy strikes.  Their daughter Christine drowns in the pond on their land.  Soon after the couple travels to Venice, where John is working on a restoration project, to escape the reminders of this misfortune.

Laura is still very depressed but has a strange encounter that significantly lifts her spirits.  While at dinner one night, a psychic (who is blind) tells her she saw Christine's spirit sitting between the Baxters and the girl is happy in the afterlife.  Though cheered, Laura is still very curious and wants a second interview with these women – and more information about Christine if possible.  The more skeptical John is the more they coincidentally run into the psychic and her sister around town.  After Laura meets with them again for a "séance" to contact Christine, she has two messages for John.  First, Christine warns her father he is in great danger and must leave Venice.  Secondly, the psychic believes John also has the second sight.

John shrugs it off until he has an interesting accident during the church restoration project. Then his skepticism and suspicion skyrocket as he believes he sees Laura on a boat with the psychic and her sister in Venice, though she was supposed to be in England visiting their son at boarding school.

Have these two elderly and perhaps mad sisters kidnapped his wife?  Is someone out to get him?  To top it all off, John begins seeing a small figure in a red hooded coat – similar to the red slicker Christine was wearing when she drowned – running in and out of the shadows by the canal.

To find out what John really saw (from this world, the other side, or his imagination), the movie delivers a quasi-predictable – yet still interesting – ending.  For being nearly two hours long and a thriller (which I normally don't like), I really enjoyed Don't Look Now.  Sure, there are some disconcertingly 1970s things about it (i.e. Julie Christie, for the love of all things decent, put on a bra!!!), but it is a very well-made movie.  The direction is excellent, and in several instances little symbolic and artsy touches (like one singular candle going out on a prayer alter) add to the experience. I would advise against watching the original trailer though, it is pretty terrible and very misleading.

If you:

  • Like a nice European backdrop
  • Like little visual foreshadowing hints dropped about like breadcrumbs
  • Don't mind a thriller not really being all that scary

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Are bothered people in 1970s movies incessantly smoking indoors
  • Would like more than 60 seconds of gore in a movie
  • Are not sure you want to sit through a few minutes of Donald Sutherland's bare ass during a somewhat awkward sex scene and then him sitting around the hotel room in the buff thereafter

Don't put it in the queue!

Written by Jennifer Venson