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Review: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) 

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Premise: A young couple (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) moves into a high class New York apartment and find themselves surrounded by strange neighbors. After Rosemary mysteriously becomes pregnant she begins to suspect a Satanic cult is at work in the building and intends to sacrifice her child.

What Works: Rosemary’s Baby is very different from a lot of other horror pictures from the New Hollywood era. The film features Polanski’s style, and Rosemary’s Baby is much quieter than other pictures like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes. Polanski uses odd or distant framing of the subjects on the screen, which keeps the audience’s interest up even when very little action is presented in the film. The horror of Rosemary’s Baby is based in the fear of impending motherhood; it is internal rather than an external fear, and that works because of the wonderful performance by Mia Farrow. She might be crazy or she might be right and Farrow’s performance walks that line terrifically. The film keeps the audience on tenterhooks by not showing its hand and letting the ambiguity work itself out, waxing and waning between one explanation or the other. Like a lot of New Hollywood horror films, Rosemary’s Baby plays on subverting or defeating audience expectations, which the film does in a terrific reversal in its finale. As an early entry in the trend of demonically themed films, which later became a major force in the culture and in the movies, Rosemary’s Baby established a number of themes and ideas that were central such as a Satanic conspiracy, the impending arrival of the Antichrist, and the evil of the everyday. In this way, Rosemary’s Baby was highly influential both on later films and on American culture.

What Doesn’t: A contemporary audience might struggle with film’s pace, which is much slower than the movies they are accustomed to. Some of the characters in the building are so offbeat that they come off as comic now, almost like a darker version of characters in The Devil Wears Prada or Sex and the City.

DVD extras: Featurette, documentary.

Bottom Line: Rosemary’s Baby remains a smart thriller. Some of its style has aged but the performance by Mia Farrow still holds up and the underlying themes of the film are as strong now as they were in their initial release.

Episode: #210 (October 26, 2008)