FILM (1968)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Rosemary's Baby
Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
Director: Roman Polanski

To many living in the tabloid news-filled internet generation, the thought of babies coupled with Roman Polanski can only conjure up images of terror and depravity. It was a similar situation in the 1960s, when the filmmaker was at the height of his directorial powers - although that depravity was limited to projections on a movie screen.

Rosemary's Baby is arguably his most famous film and ranks alongside such classics as Psycho, The Exorcist, and Halloween as defining examples of the horror genre, which have influenced nearly every thrill-and-chill movie since.

Its tale of an innocent couple moving into a creepy apartment building might seem tired these days, but the slow reveal of selling one's soul to the devil in exchange for bearing the spawn of Satan holds just as much shocking power and unsettling fear as it did on its original release.

In retrospect, that heightened sense of terror isn't all that surprising: based on the novel by the macabre-minded Ira Levin (The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil), and directed by convicted sex offender Polanski, Rosemary's Baby now seemed destined to be a match made in the cauldrons of hell.

The film's slow, deliberate pace and lack of cheap shocks or gore are key to creating its sense of foreboding terror, but the thoroughly developed characters and well-rounded cast play an equally important part.

Mia Farrow dished out innocence better than anyone as Rosemary, her doe-eyed portrayal now impossible to separate from her personal struggles with former husband Woody Allen.

The frighteningly faced Ruth Gordon, meanwhile, was more than deserving of her Oscar for playing the neighbour from hell, endlessly alternating between helpful friend and horrific fiend.

But the true tension of Rosemary's Baby lies not in pace or cast, but in its filmmaking techniques. Polanski's European sensibilities offer a cold, almost soulless approach to this nightmarish tale. By juxtaposing some of his newfound US home's most idyllic qualities (family life, friendly neighbours, middle-class living) with some of its worst (artificial kindness, perversion, sin), Polanski constructed an American dream scenario tainted by its greed.

By directing the film as if the camera was the audience's own voyeuristic eyes, he created a sense of foreboding relatable to every child-bearing mother or family member in the audience.

Rosemary's Baby is that rare horror film, combining the everyman's fears with the most morbid of Biblical myths. But Polanski's influence plays a major part, his shrewd silver-screen touch rocking the film's cradle ever so slightly until it becomes almost unbearable. Just don't show it to your pregnant wife.