I love holiday horror films. To me, they demonstrate the genre's ongoing commitment to ruining even the happiest of occasions with visions of nightmarish terror. There was a time when Halloween was the only holiday associated with evil and darkness and that set it apart as the isolated capsule of fear. But then, one by one, the other, more joyful holidays became targets for horror interpretations. It's gotten to the point that no festive celebration is without its own signature slasher or identifiable bloodbath.
For today's seasonal slaughtering, we celebrate Labor Day with Rosemary's Baby.
While I really wanted to spotlight a film from Fantastic Fest, my personal Christmas in September, I understand that it is not an officially "recognized" holiday. So instead I had to go with the only dubious holiday September had to offer: Labor Day. As no holiday horror film exists that features a madman butchering people on his well-deserved day off from work, I decided to get a little punny and watch horror's most seminal with-child nightmare: Rosemary's Baby. The double whammy of this month's post is that this is a classic, highly-regarded horror film that I had not seen.
Young couple Rosemary and Guy move into an old, elegant New York apartment building and set to work making a life for themselves. Shortly thereafter, in typical young couple fashion, Rosemary becomes pregnant. Her overwhelming joy turns slowly into all-consuming terror as she begins to suspect that her neighbors are Satanists and her husband may have promised them her baby to use in their dark rituals. Are her fears legitimate or is she suffering from madness as a complication of her pregnancy?
Considering the sheer magnitude of Best Horror Films of All Time lists on which Rosemary's Baby has found purchase, I fully expected to love it. I had heard that it was a bit slow but I've watched my fair share of slow burn films and more specifically I am a huge fan of The House of the Devil, another Satan film to adopt a methodical pace, so I was not concerned. There is no question this is a slow film, almost the entire first act is about Mia Farrow redecorating the apartment and getting to know her elderly neighbors. Once the conspiracy comes to light, again very slowly, it is clear that the film is not slow for the sake of appearing more artistic or because it harbors pretentious aspirations of elevating beyond the genre. It builds tension much in the same way that The House of the Devil does and as we get closer and closer to the climax, I slowly inched to the edge of my seat.
I've never been the biggest Mia Farrow fan. I find her obnoxious and vapid, but admittedly most of that is based on her performance in The Great Gatsby in which her character is obnoxious, vapid, and is supposed to be disliked. But she does bring a bit of that Daisy quality to Rosemary as well which makes it hard to connect with her until she becomes cognizant of the plot against her child. But overall I think Farrow creates a protagonist whose all-consuming love for her unborn child makes her entirely sympathetic. The other performance that really impressed me in Rosemary's Baby was that of John Cassavetes as Guy. I haven't seen him act before, but he was completely natural and charismatic. It's what makes it so jarring when we suspect that he is truly vile.
There are some really interesting dream sequences in Rosemary's Baby the likes of which I had not seen in a film before. They are seamlessly blended into reality with words from the waking world emanating from the outlandish individuals in the dream. They were among the creepier elements of the film and adequately bridged the seemingly more mundane moments and kept me connected to the underlying threat of the apartment. I think my favorite has to be the conversation from Rosemary's neighbor that is transmitted through the mouths of nuns in the dream world. These were unsettling plot points, clues as to the dark intentions of the elderly neighbors communicated by Catholic standard-bearers which created a fascinating juxtaposition.
All of this praise being lavished, I think the ending of the film completely kills it. [Spoiler Alert!] We find out that not only did Rosemary's child not die during labor, but the neighbors have stolen him and are now worshiping him. Oh, and by the by, Guy was not the father of the child at all, but instead he was sired by the prince of darkness. There is a gloriously reserved moment wherein Rosemary looks down into the cradle and her horrified expression perfectly compensates for there not being a single shot of the devil child. But the thing that really bothers me here is after all that manipulation, all that evil conspiring, and all the anguish they have put this poor woman through, the film ends with Rosemary rocking the baby and smiling. In other words, I don't care that my son is the hellspawn of the devil, I will love him just the same because he is my son. Wrong! I don't buy this ending but at all and see it as a desperate ploy for a twist to give the audience something to "think about." No woman who endure all of that, and bear a child so hideous they can't stand the sight of it only to decide seconds later she can abide a Satanic cult being inextricably linked to the rest of her life in order to play mommy to that same monster child.
I make a mental pact with any slow film that I watch: as long as the payoff makes it worthwhile, I will patiently go along for the ride. My problem with Rosemary's Baby is that the payoff is preposterous and does not at all justify the slow burn. The actual moment wherein Rosemary walks into the room with the cult members paying tribute to the infant, their new god, is chilling. But that last shot is completely unfounded and ruins the ending.
In any case, if you know a pregnant woman whom you will be seeing today, please do NOT recommend this film to her . Happy Labor Day!