Rosemary's Baby ReviewJoe Shaffer
Rosemary Woodhouse is expecting.
For some people, the prospect of increasing the size of their family can be described as euphoric. For Rosemary, it's become a constant battle. You see, Mrs. Woodhouse lives in the vicinity of a strange collection of individuals with a propensity for scheming, murder, and chanting into the late hours of the night. Worst of all, they're suspiciously interested in the precious bundle that she carries...
The film Rosemary's Baby is a taut little slow-burn piece. The early phases of the film mainly attempt give you the sensation that all is merely not right in Rosemary's world. However, as the story advances, she plunges deeper into madness. Most of this is thanks to Mia Farrow's terrific performance as the troubled mother-to-be. It's impressive to watch her progressively slip from passive to defiant, from calm to panicked. In one scene, she relates her seemingly paranoid troubles to a doctor, raving on and on about witches and a plot to seize her baby. Although we would have stuck with Rosemary long enough by this point to know that her story is legit, Mia Farrow does a fine job spinning her tale into a frantic yarn not unlike a crackpot theory that anyone would dismiss.
Farrow isn't the only one who delivers a stunning performance in this film, either. The one who really stole the show is Ruth Gordon, who plays Rosemary's next door neighbor Minnie Castevet. Minnie is pretty much what you would expect from an irritating neighbor: nosy, pushy, chatty, and yet sinister to the bone. Through her seemingly innocent charm, she is somehow able to prevent Rosemary from discovering the true nature of her neighbors, as well as keep her from receiving allopathic medicine. And yet, her aggressively talkative nature belies a more benign--even comedically so--woman who shouldn't be capable of abetting her fellow conspirators. Though comic relief characters like Minnie can come off as cheap, stereotypical, or pedestrian, the combination of Ruth Gordon's acting and Roman Polanski's screenplay helped flesh out Mrs. Castevet into an enjoyable, grandmotherly villain. Bear in mind, Ruth Gordon did receive an Oscar for this role.
Although you always hear "wonderfully shot" in reference to "Academy-caliber" movies, it definitely shows in Rosemary's Baby. Polanski plays with the camera a lot in this feature, especially with objects or hands entering the our main field of view from the side of the screen: smoke billows into our line of sight as Roman Castevet and Rosemary's husband Guy trade stories over cigarettes off camera, Guy's arm extends from the right to hand an object to Rosemary, and the clawed hands of an unseen horror creep into the camera's view to claw Rosemary's bare body during the infamous conception scene. Let's also not forget Polanski's usage of surreal imagery and religious icons, which bolster the film's Satanic elements.
Although the above factors are fine, what truly separates Rosemary's Baby from its peers is reliance on old fashion tension through implications whilst eschewing visceral scares. During one scene, for instance, a meddling character loses a glove. Though it might seem like an innocuous event on the surface, deep down we all know that it spells doom for him, especially given the nature of Rosemary's neighbors. There's also a sense of dread that comes with every interaction that Rosemary has with her neighbors. Unfortunately no amount of yelling, "Don't drink that!" or "Get out of the office! He's a witch!" will assuage the tightness in your gut, a feeling that comes when you realize that she's furthering the diabolical plan of her assailants, rather than rearing a healthy child.
Finally, the film ends with a bang. No, I don't mean with an action-packed scene and a loud, wild conclusion. I won't spoil it for you, but it's the kind of ending that leaves you believing that the true horror doesn't occur during the film. It's the kind of fear that broods in your mind long after the story has ended and you've shut the book. You might lie away in bed telling yourself that maybe things will work out, but you know in your heart that--this being a horror film--it's safe to assume that the most insidious outcome is the likely course that the events will follow after the story is over.
That sense of not knowing how events will unfold is part of what gives a well told horror story its power. That is part of the reason why I think horror sequels are, for the most part, unnecessary. They tend to destroy a solid, terrifying concept, which is precisely what Rosemary's Baby's sequel accomplishes.
Yes, there's a sequel.
No, it's not worth watching, even if you're curious. You could spend that film's running time repeatedly punching yourself really, really hard in the gut, and it would be a wiser investment of your free time.
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