Don't Look Now 4K Review
After the tragic death of their daughter, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) decide to work and recover in Venice. Whilst John finds comfort in the restoration of an ancient gothic church, his wife befriends two mysterious sisters - Wendy (Clelia Matania) and Heather (Hilary Mason) - Heather is blind and claims to have the psychic ability to communicate with their dead child. She also claims that John has the same gift of “second sight” and his life is in grave danger. Unable to accept the idea of anything supernatural, John is immediately suspicious of the sister’s true intentions and their control over his vulnerable wife.
Based faithfully on the Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Don’t Look Now is a classic of British horror thanks to the bond between director Nicolas Roeg and the superb naturalistic performances of his leads. Roeg had a uniquely individual style, somewhat at odds with his conventional past as a cinematographer, and he was perfectly placed to pick at the insanity within Don’t Look Now. The story is unbearably real, grounded by Sutherland and Christie, but with a stroke of madness, surely the key to any successful horror; something that can't be explained, even if patently ridiculous (Grandpa at the dinner table in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for example). Burn the bridge on which the viewer is stood, feeling safe.
I’ve seen this film several times, but not since I became a father. My goodness, the story hits like a hammer blow. The opening scene is devastating, tragic and upsetting, and the events that follow, contradictory and emotional. Yet, they make sense. It’s a story of grief and sex and the questionable motives because of and in spite of both those imposters. All understandable and relatable. Ramp up the tension and the misery all you like; they are human, they are us, but time... That's a constant you can't mess with, but Roeg does.
Extraordinary, bold editing creates deceptively mundane segues based on a motif, emotion or sound. The famous sex scene is cleverly done and beyond the silliness of the, "did they really?" question, it has an important place in the fabric of the film. Throughout, there is an unpredictable sense of melancholy yet one that does not jar but does challenge. It takes the story into a surreal world, one in which the narrator is untrustworthy, malicious, simply absent or insane. Don’t Look Now makes any of those possibilities utterly terrifying. We don't like the story being told, but for goodness sake don't leave us alone with it. Don't look now, indeed.
There is an undeniable sense of a conspiracy against Sutherland, one he is equipped to deal with if only he knew. A solution just out of reach to him and Christie. The ending - I must discuss it slightly - is iconic, but maybe a little bit daft. Certainly, the first time you see it though, there's a sudden, crushing realisation of what the heck was going on all along.
Don’t Look Now was released the same year as The Exorcist and The Wicker Man, making 1973 a high watermark of horror in the modern cinema age. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was just around the corner too. Roeg’s astonishing work has left a strand of DNA that one can find in Alien, The Shining, and right up to the more recent genre-bending In Bruges.
The new 4K resolution transfer from the original camera negative is striking compared with the last Blu-Ray release. That was pretty good, but this is on another level thanks to some extraordinary restoration work (detailed in a featurette). Grainy, but not distracting and what is already a muted palette is given a hitherto unappreciated depth and colour.
The soundtrack has been painstakingly restored and it was so important to get right. Sound is used brilliantly, such that Don’t Look Now poses an interesting conundrum. Art has always been a victim to the available material and Roeg designed the soundscape around limitations and flaws which inform the style. If made today, could he have pulled off the same effect?
Audio Commentary with Nic Roeg: Pleasant but too rambling and in need of some focus. Those who know the film well will find a great deal of value in the insight for approach and production, in particular, the sets.
Pass The Warning: Reflecting on Nic Roeg's Masterpiece (42m): This is great. Contemporary filmmakers and collaborators discuss Roeg's work and there are some unusual choices for talking heads (Brad Bird is the first one). Danny Boyle, in whose work you can consistently find Roeg, is a more obvious choice and a welcome one. All have solid contributions and it's as entertaining as it is fascinating.
A Kaleidoscope of Meaning: Colour in Don't Look Now (15m): The palette of the film is complicated and important. This extension of the previous feature explores it in detail. Well worth the time as such discussions are often neglected.
4K Restoration Featurette (6m): The restoration is striking and obvious, but this short feature explores just how far they went, working with cinematographer Tony Richmond who gives a lovely story about his favourite mistake during production.
Don't Look Now (Collector's Edition Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) is released on the 29th July
Don't Look Now (1973)
Dir: Nicolas Roeg | Cast: Clelia Matania, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Julie Christie | Writers: Allan Scott (screenplay), Chris Bryant (screenplay), Daphne Du Maurier (story)