The following article was published in N-SPHERE February 2010 issue.


“Rosemary’s Baby” is the film that turned Roman Polanski into an internationally acclaimed director and also gave horror films a new course. Instead of playing on gory notes or on the out–of–the–ordinary right–in–your–face setup, this film hides the outlandish in the mundane and plays its violin while the protagonist (Rosemary) unveils it gradually.

Like in one of his previous films – “Repulsion” – Polanski uses small details to create tension, but in this case it is not about the mind falling apart and ultimately turning against itself, nor is it about the eye that sees what doesn’t exist, but it is about what exists, and what the eye doesn’t usually see.

There is a hitchockian tone that traverses the whole film and yet at no point the movie’s intention is to create confusion regarding its plot. Quite on the contrary, we know what we are supposed to know from the very beginning and we keep knowing and witnessing, until the film reaches its shocking conclusion.

It is not the horror, or the surprise of what we do not expect, it is the horror of what we see and others don’t or aren’t around to see.

By demystifying the forces and the things that we perceive as supernatural, we are given a familiar view with a familiar image of them and we can also grasp a way they can work out in our own terms and perceived reality. That is because when we see an entity rising from the depths and paralyzing someone, for instance, we have a familiar image that triggers our feelings of awe, fear etc, thus our reaction is something induced. However, when that same person paralyzes out of the blue, we still assume and wait for a logical explanation, because that familiar ground is not present to trigger anything. But if coincidences continue to appear and a real pattern is forming so that we can see it in the flesh, stripped away of conventions, it may turn out to be way more frightening.

When we see that odd sex scene in the film, we assume it is a dream, when we see the scars we may look surprised, until Guy (Rosemary’s husband) admits that “he wanted to do it that night”. When the actor, that took the role Guy also auditioned for, wakes up blind, we initially suspect it was an unnoticed medical condition that worsened until it spanned out of control, but when Hutch fell into a coma hours after he talked to Rosemary and insisted on seeing her the day after, we start to doubt it is all a coincidence.

There is something about the people in the early films of Polanski, something eerie about them, even in the way they are filmed, in their faces, something that makes them unreliable even in their best and most sociable mood. You can see this in this movie and you may also notice it in “The Tenant”, which partially uses the same ground.

As I said before, the film is very straightforward, there is no mystery, there are no plot twists, we know what is about to happen and it will happen. The horror is in the eye of the beholder and in the contrast between what people seem to be and what they really are. It is the same as in “Psycho”, but we do not have a psychical condition here, there is a supernatural context dressed in ordinary clothes.

To have an unfamiliar ground is easy to do, but also easy to dismiss. However, to have an unfamiliar ground channeled in familiar methods is not that easy and it is effective.

The same setup is used again in the already–mentioned “The Tenant”, but where “The Tenant” creates, this one unravels. There, a pattern is forming and we see it, gradually. Here, a pattern is formed from the beginning and we experience and only then unravel it.

For some this may be an uninteresting approach, since we know what will happen before it does happen, but this is not a film to simply watch, but to experience – then it becomes frightening and this is where Polanski shows the aces hidden in his sleeve.

There is another aspect, as well. If you have a standard horror film, it will work only as a horror film, as there is only one way to encounter it. But if you drop standards and create a film that may work as a horror film as well as a psychological thriller as well as some occult story as well as some parable, then there are many ways to encounter it.

All in all, if you like the more flashy stuff or the ones that shove your nose in surrealism or gory effective imagery, this may not be the film for you; but if you liked films such as “Repulsion” or “Psycho”, or if you want to see something stripped off the familiar genre “mannerisms”, you may give it a shot and see if you can rock Rosemary’s cradle.

That’s it for tonight – viddie well, little brothers, viddie well…

Movie still: Rosemary’s Baby

review by Shade

Full article here.