Director: Roman Polanski
“When a gaunt, hollow-eyed Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) exclaims with relief, “It’s alive,” about a third of the way into the film, the baby growing in her womb finally kicking, her insides before that eerily still, her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) recoils in horror touching her belly.” (486, Ernest Hardy, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
I found Rosemary’s Baby more disturbing than scary and that in itself makes the film even scarier. The horror is not tangible like in other horror films, there is no monster, no deranged serial killer or malevolent spirit. Instead the horror comes from the psychological games the surrounding characters unleash on the poor, naive, unsuspecting Rosemary. Hardy sums it up brilliantly when he says, “[…] it isn’t only the Satanic aspect of the film that makes your skin crawl. Predicated on the abuse of marital trust, on the idea that the security of family and friends might all be an illusion, a force to be used against rather than for you, Rosemary’s Baby taps into visceral fears.” (486)
Yes there is the element of witchcraft and Satan worship but what it really boils down to is her marriage turning into an abusive relationship. Guy’s success in the fickle world of show business matters to him more than the health and well-being of his wife. His new friendship with their over-friendly, outrageous neighbors compounds the turn in their marriage. It’s the little things at first like making her eat something she doesn’t want to and then escalates to ensuring she sees the doctor the coven wants her to see and throwing away her belongings. It all chips away at her sanity leaving her a shell of her former self. “[…] she quells both her better instincts and her growing suspicion that her husband, their new apartment and neighbors, and even her pregnancy are all somehow mysteriously and darkly linked.” (486)
The film is situated very much within the 1960s mostly through the fashion and stunning outfits Farrow wears as Rosemary. It’s a secluded film with the majority of the action taking place within the Woodhouse’s apartment and apartment building. “[…] the good people around her fall dead or ill, all while discovering just how pervasive the evil is around her.” (486) Towards the end of her pregnancy, and the film, Rosemary begins to assert some defiance and venture out into the world again for all the good it does her, but it does provide a nice break from the same four walls of their apartment.
Although Cassavetes gives a wonderful performance, Guy is not a character I sympathize with at all. In fact I find him more repulsive than any of the others. Similarly while Farrow is spectacular as Rosemary at times I found her extremely annoying and weak. How could she allow herself to be controlled and manipulated like that?
Like every good horror film there is a creepy song that plays throughout the film and s guaranteed to get stuck in your head for hours after the film has finished. It’s an interesting film that was surprisingly hard to watch for a horror film. But then I guess that’s because it’s more of a psychological thriller with elements of horror thrown in as opposed to a straight horror film. However it’s not a film I think I would watch again. As talented a director Polanski is I often find his work too dark and depressing to warrant multiple viewings on my part.