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Film / Don't Look Now

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Don't Look Now is a 1973 horror/thriller film directed by Nicolas Roeg, based on a 1971 short story by Daphne du Maurier.

John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) are mourning the death of their young daughter Christine, who drowned in a pond outside their house, wearing a bright red raincoat. While in Venice, where John is leading the restoration project on an old church, the Baxters meet two elderly sisters, Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Heather is blind, but claims to have "second sight", and says that she saw the spirit of Christine with her parents. Heather further suggests that Christine is trying to warn her parents of impending danger, and that John himself has clairvoyant powers.

John is skeptical of all this, and thinks the sisters are trying to dupe his emotionally-fragile wife. While John and Laura work through their grief and try to save their marriage, Venice is being terrorized by a series of murders. Then John notices a small figure darting around the city's alleys, wearing a similar red coat to the one Christine wore when she died. But, as John himself observes, "Nothing is what it seems."

This movie contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The film delves a bit more into the backstory and the relationship between the Baxters than the novella does. Also, the bishop who employs John to restore the Venetian church (played by veteran Italian actor Massimo Serrato) was added as a character for the film.
  • Alien Geometries: Venice comes across like this, with John and Laura getting lost far too easily in places they should feel familiar with, given that this is clearly not their first time in that city.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A few scenes feature authentic Italian dialogues, some of them being quite important to understand the plot.
  • Blind Seer: Heather, both blind and psychic.
  • Color Motif: As summed up by the film's cinematographer Anthony Richmond.
    "Obviously the girl who drowns is in a red raincoat and the shock at the end is in red. But you’ll notice most of the other red is taken out. There is no red in the costume, wardrobe or set dressing. Whenever red appears in the movie there is an element of danger.”
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Averted; not only is it unreliable, the mud makes it unpretty!
  • Creepy Child: Played With. John thinks he sees one, only he's not quite right.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: John. With a meat cleaver to the neck, no less!
  • Death of a Child: The film opens with Christine drowning in a lake. This prompts the narrative of the rest of the film.
  • Depraved Dwarf: The Reveal. The mysterious figure in a red raincoat is not Christine. It is a grown female serial killer.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the original short story Christine dies of meningitis rather than drowning.
  • Doomed Appointment: Several times, mostly overlapping at the climax. John arranges to meet with Laura at their hotel. However, when Laura gets to the consulate, she discovers that John actually went with the sisters, so Laura goes there instead...and just misses John again, but arrives in time to hear the sisters' warning.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Laura has this reaction when she encounters some rats playing in the canal water while she walks with John in Venice.
  • Evil Old Folks When we finally get a look at the dwarf woman's face, she appears to be pretty up there in years.
  • Fainting: Laura passes out at a restaurant after a blind woman claims to have seen Christine sitting between her and John, laughing.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • All over the place, even things that don't seem very important at first.
    • If you know what kind of boat John has a vision of Laura riding on, you have an idea of what's going to happen, as it's a funeral boat.
  • Gainax Ending: The climax is simple—John gets murdered. But beginning with the grotesque situation of the murderer being a frightening dwarf, it leads into a series of quick Call Backs and cuts between John, Laura, Heather and the Bishop that complicate the question of whether this was all coincidence or the supernatural elements hinted at throughout the story were genuine. Then the film ends just as John's funeral is starting, leaving it up in the air what happens to the characters afterwards, including whether the dwarf ever gets caught.
  • Ghost City: Venice comes across as this. This isn't the sunny touristy Venice, but Venice in the off season, where everything closes early, the streets are dark and wet, and isolation sinks in effortlessly.
  • Homage: The aural match cut following Christine's death from Laura's scream to the screech of a drill is reminiscent of a cut in The 39 Steps (1935), when a woman's scream cuts to the whistle of a steam train.
  • Kensington Gore: John's blood at the end is bright red.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: Christine wears a hooded red coat. She drowns. And the ghost of her is seen as such...turns out to be a dwarf murderer in a coat, thus actually inverting the trope.
  • Little People Are Surreal: The mysterious dwarf creature who abruptly kills John at the end of the film.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Subverted. Christine Baxter drowns while wearing a red raincoat in the film's opening, and the entire film suggests that she's trying to appear before the Baxters from the beyond but it's really a dwarf in a red raincoat with a meat cleaver, who murders randomly.
  • Mind Screw: All manner of bizarre imagery and odd events in the film. And the ending makes clear that they were all John's premonitions of his own death, which he didn't take heed of.
  • Misplaced Accent: The Italian characters all speak flawless Italian, but only a couple have a real Venetian accent.
  • Mistaken from Behind: The film ends with a horrific instance of this trope as the bereft parent thinks he can see his daughter and she turns out to be a female dwarf in a red coat carrying a hunting knife, with which she kills him.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling:
    • Even before he knows anything has happened to Christine, John suddenly rushes out to the pond when she drowns, which could be taken as a sign that he has Psychic Powers.
    • At the climax Heather and the Bishop both sense when John is killed.
  • Oh, Crap!: John at the climax once he realizes the figure in the red coat isn't his daughter, she's the Serial Killer who's been on a killing spree in Venice.
  • Police Are Useless: After seeing Laura on the black boat with Heather and Wendy, John goes to the police, but they find him suspicious instead and start following him around the city.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film sticks fairly close to the short story, but makes a couple key changes that heighten the drama: Christine dying in an accident rather than from meningitis, and the Baxters going to Venice for a work project rather than just a vacation.
  • Psychic Powers: Heather, John and the Bishop all seem to have them, but have differing attitudes toward them. Heather embraces it as a gift from God, John is "resisting it" (in Heather's words), and the Bishop seems to reluctantly acknowledge it ("I wish I didn't have to believe in prophecy. I do, but I wish I didn't have to").
  • Psychological Horror: The film is more based around building an atmosphere of dread, grief and apprehension than jump scares.
  • Raincoat of Horror: John catches glimpses of a figure in a red raincoat that might be the ghost of his daughter (who was wearing a red raincoat when she died).
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: None of the Italian is subtitled, and having John speak fluently with the Italians keeps the audience further out of the loop.
  • Rewatch Bonus: All of the imagery from the beginning when you realize John is having premonitions of his own death and funeral.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: John is preparing to go back to England when he inexplicably sees Laura and the two sisters on a boat on the river, which prompts him to stay in Venice in an effort to find Laura. His vision of Laura is in fact a premonition of Laura riding on a funeral boat following his own death. His premonition of his funeral is what prompts him to stay in Venice, which then leads to his death.
  • Sex for Solace: The famous sex scene with John and Laura. It's implied that this is the first time they've been intimate with each other since Christine's death, and they certainly make the most of the situation.
  • Skyward Scream: John, after surfacing with his dead daughter in his arms.
  • Splash of Color: It's a color film, but shot in very subdued, dark, dingy tones. A red child's coat is made extremely vivid by contrast, and has plot significance.
  • Surreal Horror: There are several scenes where John has recurring visions of his deceased daughter and of his own death and funeral as he wanders lost in abandoned plazas, courtyards, and palaces in Venice (which themselves are distorted and dreamlike due to the near-absence of other people).
  • Title Drop: None in the film, but it's the opening line in the short story, spoken by John to Laura, referring to the sisters watching them.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Laura has this relationship to Christine's old ball, and even sneaks it along in her suitcase for the trip to Venice. John is quite upset when he discovers this.
  • Treacherous Spirit Chase: John thinks he is seeing the spirit of his dead daughter and tries to track her down throughout the film. When he finally tracks down the hooded figure it turns out to be the serial killer mentioned on the radio earlier.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: The shot stays on Laura while John has to run to the bathroom, but from the sounds he's making it's pretty clear he's not feeling too well.
    John: I wouldn't go in there for a couple of minutes if I were you.
  • Women Are Wiser: Women are shown to be better at communicating than men. Heather is psychic, Laura regularly stays in contact with the Baxter's son, Johnny and when the Baxters receive a phone call informing them of Johnny's accident at the boarding school, the headmaster's inarticulateness in explaining the situation causes his wife to intercept and explain instead.