Title: Don’t Look Now
Country: UK, Italy
Language: English, Italian
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Director: Nicolas Roeg
based on the story of Daphne Du Maurier
Music: Pino Donaggio
Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond
On screen, Venice has never looked so gloomy and despondent, not even in Visconti’s wintry and self-absorbed DEATH IN VENICE (1971), cinematographer-turned-auteur Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW, renders Venice a sinister aura with dilapidation and chill in the air.
In the preamble, we witness with trepidation of two tots playing outside an estate, around a muddy pond, whereas their laisser-faire parents are fiddling with their own business inside, the crosscutting sequences reaches an uncanny culmination when the father, John Baxter (Sutherland), has a premonition with crimson colour appearing on his slide, rushes out and plunges into the pond, only too late to rescue their daughter Christine from drowning.
In the next scene, John and his wife Laura (Christie) are in Venice, he accepts a job to restore a run-down cathedral commissioned by Bishop Barbarrigo (Serato). They are still under the grief of losing Christine, but on the surface, they try not bickering about it or shifting blames, and seem to well possess their composure in the off-season Floating City. Their mental recuperation process is interrupted by the encounter of two fellow British tourists, Wendy (Matania) and her blind sister Heather (Mason), the latter is a psychic, gifted with a second sight, although being a complete stranger to the couple, she tells Laura that she can see Christine with them in the restaurant. This revelation shocks Laura to her core, but after an initial collapse, she regains her strength and spirit, because Heather has told her that Christine is happy now, so she can finally let go of the pestering guilt, and back in the hotel, the film’s (in)famously graphic sex scenes between her and John intercut with shots of their post-coitus dressing-up, which leaves an impression of their rekindled passion, a foreign land does work as an antidote for one’s tragic experience.
However, men have a different approach respecting sorrow and regret, a non-superstitious John is grudgingly against the idea of Laura meeting the two sisters, they quarrel but Laura insists, Heather informs her that John is the one who also has the power to connect with Christine, who is trying to communicate with him but he is too hardbitten to see that, meanwhile an unknown serial-killer is at large in the city, and John has the vision of seeing fleeting images of Christine materialising in the streets. Things will become more eerie when John nearly survives a fall during his work and claims to see Laura on a passing gondola clothed all black for a funeral ceremony with the two British ladies present, when in reality, she is back in Britain to visit their son in the boarding school. Who’s funeral is this? Soon he will find out in the lurid twist where he unyieldingly follows a figure resembles a little girl to a deserted palace, beset with mist, danger and gore.
Roeg devilishly exploits the tropes of death, living and the medium in-between, completed with an effectual nod to the religious mystery and metaphysics,
and keeps them in the mix by leaving titillating clues to suggest a gothic apparition or an evil hidden agenda is brewing, with a little help from Pino Donaggio’s unnerving score and cogently retains the frisson of Daphne Du Maurier’s original short story up until the shocking disclosure in the end. Sutherland and Christie support each other in wandering in the occult atmosphere with earthly bearings as two sane souls steeled with their own beliefs, and Hilary Mason engraves a legendary mien of an unstable medium dwelling eternally in a cryptic universe. More significantly, DON’T LOOK NOW is a textbook marvel of how to cook up a top-shelf psychological thriller, constituted with sterling craftsmanship, and resists the common pitfall of descending into a spur-of-the-moment camp scare-fest.