Don’t Look Now is an impressionistic kaleidoscope filled with images of dread and grief.
Don’t Look Now is an impressionistic horror film full of symbolism, motifs, a hint of the supernatural and a dangerous serial killer. It’s a film that excels in subtlety and has a gothic foreboding atmosphere. The horror is set in the psyche of the main character, which makes him an unreliable narrator and his perception itself sends him and the viewer on a confusing path. With beautiful cinematography, motifs both in shots, colors and in events, the story is very atmospheric and disturbing with the focus on suspense and dread. With a strong drama propelling the storyline forward, it’s a horror that surpasses a standard horror film.
After the loss of their little girl Christine who drowned in a small brook near their home, John and Laura Baxter decide to go Venice where he has a job restoring an old church. Their son stays in England at boarding school. At a restaurant Laura meets two women, sisters, Heather and Wendy. When Heather, who’s a psychic tells her she sees a young girl sitting between John and Laura, smiling, Laura is relieved. But she also warns John to leave Venice for his life is in danger. When strange things start to happen to John and a killer roams the streets and canals of Venice, there might be some truth to the sinister warning.
Why you should watch it
The story is set around the theme of losing a child and how both parents cope with this tragedy. The whole structure is built upon their sense of loss and being lost themselves. Not only have they lost a child, but they are on the verge of losing each other and themselves in grief. In Venice they regularly get lost in the little alleys and they often lose sight of each other.
They also lose each other in their communications. There’s a lot of confusion, misunderstandings and even a telephone conversation is hardly audible. John mistakes his visions for the reality. The red cloaked figure that is the Venice killer looks in his imagination like Christine who wore that same sort of coat when she drowned. Everything gets jumbled up in his mind, like a kaleidoscope.
Water is a recurring motif, which has a direct connection to death. First Christine’s death which is filmed through the reflection of the water and now the women who are killed in Venice are lifted out of the canals. Other motifs are the breaking of glass, an omen for death or an accident. Falling, a recurring event, is also related to a near death experience. And eventually mirrors are everywhere. They reflect John and the other characters, but not necessarily in an objective way, but rather in an impressionistic or subjective way. Looking without actually seeing reality. Like a misunderstanding with oneself.
The whole story revolves around grief, death, omens and drifting apart. These motifs are eventually the cause of John’s doom. His own visions or hallucinations lead him on a path of self destruction, which seems to be inevitable.
The cinematography supports the theme and motifs in a very impressionistic way. The tone and atmosphere always create a sense of danger. His visions play a big part in the feeling of dread. Scenes aren’t linear, but flow fluidly telling a compelling story of sometimes two different events that play out at the same time or at different times, but are related and are integrated into the story and with each other. The editing is beautifully done and the shots flow fluidly like watercolor paintings, with flowing colors and images. This fluidity is another example of flowing water itself, like death flowing through the story.
An example of this fluidity is right at the beginning when Christine drowns and John and Laura are inside the house, when a glass of water breaks and the water flows over a photograph. It blends colors and motifs like a kaleidoscope, it gives the optic illusion of a three dimensional image based upon a two dimensional image, creating patterns and motifs. It reflects the different themes and perception of John that seem to have nothing to do with each other, but when combined create a terrifying outcome, and finally make sense. It’s the start of visions, motifs, hallucinations and flashbacks that follow John throughout the film. It spirals out of control when John notices the small figure in the red coat and follows it to the end, when all the different motifs and patterns fall in line.
Don’t Look Now is a very well-crafted film, with excellent cinematography, storytelling and intriguing themes, told and mostly shown in an exceptional way.
My favorite part
What I truly loved about this film is that is has more layers. Not only in themes and motifs, but especially how they are put to use combined with the narrative and cinematography. This way this film can be seen in different ways. Straightforward or diving beneath the surface and discovering how the kaleidoscope fits within the story and how it connects John and Laura and their grief and what is happening in Venice. It’s not per se a mystery or a puzzle, but a way of perspective, different ways to look at what you are (actually) seeing and give meaning to it. Asides from this, the story itself is an excellent example of a foreboding tale full of atmospheric dread.
Thrill factor: ★★★★☆
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
Don’t Look Now is based on the novel Don’t Look Now written by Daphne du Maurier in 1971. It is directed by Nicolas Roeg and the screenplay is written by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant. It stars Donald Sutherland (John Baxter), Julie Christie (Laura Baxter), Hilary Mason (Heather) and Clelia Matania (Wendy).
Duration: 110 minutes. Music: Pino Donaggio. Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond. Edited by: Graeme Clifford. Produced by: Peter Katz. Production company: Casey Productions. Eldorado Films. Distributed by: British Lion Films.