Sunday 1 November 2020

Movie Review: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

A suspense drama with horror elements, Rosemary's Baby tracks a young mother as she experiences the pregnancy from hell.

In New York City, married couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) move into an apartment at the Bramford building. Guy is a struggling actor yet to land his first big break. Their friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) warns them the Bramford has a history of bizarre crimes and deaths. Rosemary and Guy meet their new neighbours, elderly couple Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer). Minnie is exceptionally nosey; Roman is a well-traveled smooth talker and entrances Guy with tall stories.

Guy finally lands a leading role after another actor suffers a sudden tragedy, and he soon suggests to Rosemary they have a baby. After eating a strange-tasting desert prepared by Minnie, Rosemary experiences a nightmare where she is raped by the devil. She does get pregnant, and Minnie refers her to the renowned Doctor Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy). But the early weeks are an agony of pain and weight loss, and with Guy acting strangely and Minnie providing a daily mysterious herbal drink, Rosemary starts to suspect something is very wrong.

A groundbreaking cinematic journey into the world of witchcraft, satan worshipping, and horror hiding in plain sight, Rosemary's Baby is an exercise in mounting anxiety. The Ira Levin book is adapted and directed by Roman Polanski, in his Hollywood debut, as an artistic tableau of doubt, betrayal, and helplessness, evil seeping into Rosemary's life and consuming all that was good.

Without resorting to any cheap tricks or jump scares, Polanski builds a mood of creepiness and dread. This brand of evil does not announce itself, instead infiltrating with a confident smile and facade of dotty helpfulness. The back-to-back apartments provide just a thin wall between the Woodhouse and Castevet couples, and from the permeability of sounds to Minnie's frequent obtrusive appearances at Rosemary's front door, the assault is a study in subjugation through stealth.

In addition to the satanic threat, Rosemary's Baby provides overlapping commentary on the fragility of marriage, the duplicity of friendship, the lure of career success, and the hazards of blind trust in doctors. The multiple deceptions encircle Rosemary in a conspiracy exposing the human condition at its worst.

Mia Farrow's outstanding performance is central to the film's success as the drama unfolds from Rosemary's perspective. Farrow displays frailty, trust, friendliness, instinctiveness, and then doubt, projecting every expectant woman's complicated emotional journey towards the complexities of motherhood. Ruth Gordon is equally unforgettable as the neighbour Minnie, smothering Rosemary with difficult to resist oleaginous friendliness. Dark, vulnerable and physically uncomfortable, John Cassavetes personifies the exploitable weak spot.

Rosemary's Baby is the dream of consummation and rebirth turning to a nightmare, the dark sides of ambition and sacrifice pursuing the ultimate triumph.

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