Rosemary’s Baby

RosemarysBaby_quad_UK-1Pregnancy is pretty terrifying, because you never really know what’s going to come out. Combine that with not being allowed to seek the proper answers and a mild yet ever present control over your actions, and you really have a horror story. That’s what happens in Rosemary’s Baby; a woman who desperately wants to become pregnant does, but in the most unfavorable of circumstances.

The story begins as struggling actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassevetes) and his wife Rosemary are looking for an apartment in New York City. They find one they like and decide to take despite all of its creepy and bizarre history. As they settle in, Rosemary continues to dream about starting a family. They meet the elderly couple upstairs after a young woman staying with them dies, and the couple has a growing influence on Rosemary and Guy throughout the film.

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The couple, Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon), are pretty friendly. Though they do pressure Guy and Rosemary in various ways, it’s never outright. That’s why it’s so scary, it takes a while into the film to figure if they just want to make friends or if they are actually insinuating themselves into the young couple’s lives. By the time everyone realizes it’s the second one, it’s too late because they can’t just start being rude to them for no reason other than they just now have wised up to their sinister schemes, which may or may not only be in their imaginations. That’s just not how social interaction works! The way the Castevets gain control little by little makes the film so much better than if it had just been them barging in and demanding the two of them bow to their wishes. It’s much more believable, and because you don’t really know where they stand, more unsettling.

As I said, the influence builds up over time. All they do is just go over to dinner to be polite. As time goes on, they end up giving Rosemary gifts and having the both of them or just Guy over almost every night. When Rosemary gets pregnant, they have her switch doctors and drink a special herbal mixture that Minnie makes and delivers everyday. Rosemary doesn’t know all of the ingredients, which is pretty scary. The new doctor forbids her to read pregnancy books or go to other women for advice, because supposedly this will make her anxious. She develops terrible pains, becomes thin and frail, but the doctor says this is completely normal and will stop any day now. Everyone around her is taking over her and her unborn child, and she doesn’t really know what to do about it, because it all plays out so naturally. She fights back with indirect ways at first, cutting her hair and throwing a party with a lot of her younger friends. She escalates this by indirectly causing Minnie and Roman to leave on vacation and seeking the help of a new doctor, all to no avail.

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Even if there wasn’t any satanic element at all, Rosemary’s ever growing powerlessness and isolation would make a terrifying enough story. You have a classic Gothic setup here: the powerless female, all alone, shut up in a mansion (in this case it’s just an apartment, but the effect is essentially the same). The isolation is really key, because although there are other people around, they are not helpful in any way and are actually manipulating her in most cases. This leaves her unsure of everyone else in her environment, and thus particularly prone to mental instability. It’s an interesting situation.

Again, leaving out the satanic stuff (I’ll come to this in the minute, I promise!), I find Guy pretty frightening as well. He seems completely normal, and you can feel in the beginning that he and Rosemary get along pretty well. They’re a pretty adorable couple, not gonna lie. They plan out a special night to get pregnant, when Rosemary, through eating some desert Minnie made, passes out. Guy goes through with it anyway. He says he didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and the reason behind it has to do with the satanic aspect of the story, but from what Rosemary knows at this point he raped her while she was passed out for a really flimsy reason. Add that to promising their baby away to satanists and we can definitely give Guy the worst husband of the year award. He makes way too many decisions without consulting Rosemary and it’s just the creepiest thing in the entire movie. This is a person Rosemary trusts, unlike the Castevets whom she just met, and he betrays her in the worst way possible.

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Anyway, now for the part you’ve all been waiting for: the satanic stuff. It doesn’t appear in the film that often, as most of it is focused on how creeped out Rosemary is, but when it does make appearances they are always pretty memorable. There’s some creepy chanting coming from the Castevets apartment, and the dream Rosemary experiences is pretty surreal. The greatest thing is the ending though, even if you know what’s going to happen it’s pretty horrific. We never see the baby, just Rosemary’s look of horror at its appearance, which is more effective than any special effects they could have achieved now, let alone in ’68.

Rosemary’s Baby is a very good horror film, one that tends towards the psychological side of the genre, which I appreciated a lot. It’s also interesting to see the power dynamics play out as the film unfolds, and how Rosemary tries to regain control over her baby and her life. It’s quite heroic actually. It doesn’t have a lot of your traditional jump scare moments, which again I appreciated. If you want a horror film that’s going to mess with your head, Rosemary’s Baby is a pretty good one to choose.

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“Pain, begone, I will have no more of thee!”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Falling from Vertigo review
Best Picture Project review
Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop review

4 responses to “Rosemary’s Baby

  1. Good review. The tension and suspense in this one just continues and continues to build up, that is, all until the final five minutes show up and we are left with a shocking conclusion. However, what makes it so shocking is that we’ve practically stuck with this flick for two hours, and have yet to been bored or be able to pin-point the ending in a predictable manner.

    • Thanks. I thought it was pretty suspenseful as well, mostly because there seemed to be a difference between what rosemary thought was happening and what was actually happening, though she turned out to be pretty right after all. And that’s why the ending is so creepy.

  2. Great write up Melissa! I really like this film, it’s such a slow burner and really gets under your skin. I love that it never results to cheap scares or anything like that. And thanks for the link to my review ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you!
      Slow burner is right! That’s a great part of it too, it escalates so slowly an gradually that it gives you time to question what’s happening.
      No problem! ๐Ÿ™‚

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