Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby ★★★★


I was no older than ten when I first experienced what is undoubtedly one of the most chilling and daunting works of art I have ever seen, Rosemary’s Baby. When I first sat down to watch it, it didn’t make a blind bit of sense to me yet I still went to bed that night feeling rather creeped out on account of the soundtrack and the unsettling cinematography employed throughout the film. A decade later and Rosemary’s Baby still has the power to leave me feeling on edge and uncomfortable, despite having seen it many times before. It’s one of those films that, to a contemporary audience raised on a diet of soulless blockbusters and cheap romance, might seem a tad ridiculous. After all, the plot and the film’s general structure are not always used to tell a coherent or believable (within the bounds of reason) story but rather they are used to expand on the film’s many themes and ensure that everything comes together nicely for the terrifying denouement. It’s a very slow and very atmospheric film that is less a piece of entertainment than it is a work of cinematic art.

The story is – when you think about it – really rather basic. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move into a New York apartment block with a rather colourful past and set up home there, hoping one day to have a baby. Guy is a struggling, out-of-work actor who is finding it difficult to get a break whilst Rosemary is the homemaker. After a while they become acquainted with their eccentric, but seemingly harmless, neighbours Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) Castevet and a friendship is struck up. The rest, as they say, is history. Rosemary falls pregnant and begins to believe that all those around her are plotting to take her baby. She believes them to be witches who want to sacrifice her child and use it in their rituals. As she slowly begins to question her own sanity, more and more evidence is uncovered suggesting that she might not be so far from the truth as she imagined. It’s a fascinating story of madness and solitude that would be nowhere near as good as it is were it not for Mia Farrow’s dazzling performance as Rosemary.

The plot, as I mentioned earlier, is a tad ridiculous but it’s almost unimportant. What matters here is the manner in which the story is told. Polanski was, in his day, a phenomenal director and his work here is absolute proof of that. Some of the imagery is startling – who can forget the infamous and ever-unnerving sex scene or the film’s conclusion, in which Rosemary finally discovers the truth – and Polanski plays every trick in the book to create a truly mesmerising and atmospheric piece of cinema. Admittedly it takes a very long time to get going but the effect of this is quite chilling as it totally throws you off the scent, making what happens in the film’s third act all the more compelling. As all of the pieces of the puzzle slowly start to slip into place and you start to realise the reality of the situation, the film becomes truly mesmerising. Much of this is down to the performances. Farrow is brilliant as Rosemary whilst Gordon and Blackmer manage to maintain a consistent but subtle level of creepiness and untrustworthiness throughout without ever becoming stereotypical pantomime villains. The film has an unnerving quality to it from the very first shot of New York, accompanied by a sorrowful yet operatic musical number, right the way to the very end, even when nothing much of any interest is even happening. Polanski’s direction is sublime – his use of colours, of light and dark and the way in which Rosemary’s descent into “madness” is handled are really quite brilliant.

I’m not sure the film has aged quite as well as some people may argue but it’s pretty terrifying all the same. Some of the plot devices are a little bit contrived and even with the creepy atmosphere the first half of the film drags a little but these are relatively minor quibbles. Rosemary’s Baby is considered a classic and rightly so. All I can say is this: if you haven’t seen it, make sure you give it a go.

Jay liked these reviews