Aren’t kids just the worst? I’ve got no segue here, I just hate children.
Rosemary’s Baby is one of the most lauded old school, slow burn horror movies, directed by guy-whose-name-everyone-knows-but-nobody-really-knows-any-of-his-movies Roman Polanski. Rosemary’s Baby is about the titular housewife and her husband Guy, a struggling actor. They move into a New York apartment, and make friends with some of their neighbors, the incredibly polite but somewhat off-kilter and way to into their personal lives Castevets, and Terry, a young woman they have taken in. Guy takes a liking to the Castevets and begins spending more and more time with them. Eventually, Rosemary and Guy decide to have a baby, but her pregnancy comes somewhat abruptly and mysteriously before it slowly begins sapping the life out of her. Afraid that something might happen to her unborn child, Rosemary begins tumbling down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, anger, and paranoia to try and piece together the circumstances of her pregnancy, and what it might mean for her.
Rosemary’s Baby is often cited as one of the scariest or most intense movies ever, usually a couple entries in the list below The Exorcist. While almost fifty years later, this film holds up really well, it is less effective to our jaded, cynical, and desensitized 2017 eyes. I’ve mentioned before how well made and well received horror movies are just called “thrillers” for the mainstream audience, and I think this movie is no different. It’s a slow burn, grinding you down like Rosemary’s mental fortitude. The horror comes from how vile and disgusting people can be, and how far desperate people are willing to go for whatever cause they believe in. There’s a supernatural element to Rosemary’s Baby as well, but it’s relatively subdued. There’s a million ways this movie could have gone completely off the walls, but everything is tied together well, and grounded in enough realism that you can suspend your disbelief, even when a room full of elderly people starting chanting “Hail Satan!”.
Mia Farrow got a boat load of acclaim for her portrayal of Rosemary Woodhouse, and I can totally see why now. Not only did she put on a great performance as a young woman with an increasingly deteriorating mental state but she was willing to get ugly to help convey the duress and strain her body and mind are being put under throughout the events of the film. She gets gaunt, almost disturbingly thin, her cheekbones sticking out of her face like she was a female Peter Cushing. She wears heavy bags under her eyes. Her skin has become washed out and pale. She constantly carries a layer of sweat and grime on her at all times. Much like Isabelle Adjani in Possession or Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives, Mia Farrow is a beautiful, successful and popular actress who wasn’t afraid to get gross for the sake of the film, and I totally dig that. All throughout the movie you can tell how into it Mia Farrow is, and nothing gets me more psyched on an actor than passion for their character.
Rosemary’s Baby is surprisingly well paced, too. I was dreading that it might suffer from its almost 140 minute run time, with scene after scene of people talking about babies, but Polanski keeps things puttering along so well it doesn’t feel too much longer than an hour and a half. He’s got a sense of when to place engaging and frightening scenes to break up the quieter and more dramatic portions of the film. Not that the talky scenes are bad or a drag, far from it, but control of information that is released to the audience is about as flawless as it can get here. You’re always completely invested, waiting for the next bit of juicy info that progresses the story or shines a light on one subject or character or another to slip out.
Rosemary’s Baby feels like one of those old school cult films, but doesn’t suffer from cramming too much in at once. The story is simple, cohesive, and runs completely from beginning to middle to end. Again, there are countless ways this could have become Possession or Don’t Look Now or The Devils, but I’m glad that Rosemary’s Baby didn’t give in to the excess and style of those films. It holds it’s head high with some more calm, cool, collectiveness than other horror movies seem to miss. This film totally works as an entry-level horror film for folks who can’t handle the blood or scares of more modern horror movies. I would completely recommend it to show someone just how powerful a horror film that eschews pretty much all the dumb cliché elements can be. While Rosemary’s Baby’s influence can be felt in movies that have come out since 1968, it doesn’t seem to contain anything that has been cannibalized and repurposed a thousand times over in the modern cimema landscape. Show Rosemary’s Baby to all your friends, or pair it with Á L’interieur and have a double feature with a pregnant friend or co-worker to make them never want to talk to you ever again.