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Rosemary's Baby (R)
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This is based on a book that I haven't read. It came out in 1968, seven years before I was born. I first watched it in 2016. (In 2014, there was a miniseries remake on NBC, which I considered watching, but didn't. I think that was largely because I wanted to see the original first, so maybe someday I'll try to check out the miniseries. I dunno.)

So... this young couple, Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy, move into an apartment in New York City, which has recently become available due to the death of the former tenant. (The man who showed them the apartment looked incredibly familiar to me, but I couldn't place him. After the movie, I looked online and found that he was played by Elisha Cook, Jr., whom I know best as Samuel T. Cogley in one episode of Star Trek.) Anyway, Rosemary soon meets one of her neighbors, a young woman named Terry, who had been taken in by an older couple named Roman and Minnie Castevet. One night soon after Rosemary meets her, Terry falls to her death from a window in the apartment building. It's then that Rosemary and Guy meet the Castevets, and begin spending a lot of time with them.

Meanwhile, the Woodhouses are trying to conceive a baby. And one night, after eating a suspicious dessert that Minnie had made for them (which Rosemary only ate part of), she has a nightmarish experience, which may or may not have been a dream. Soon thereafter, she learns that she's pregnant. However, the Castevets convince her not to return to the first obstetrician she saw (Dr. Hill, played by a young Charles Grodin, whom I didn't recognize at all), and instead start seeing a friend of theirs, Dr. Abraham Sapirstein. She also starts drinking a drink that Minnie prepares for her each day, instead of taking vitamins. It's not long before Rosemary starts having terrible pain in her abdomen, which Dr. Sapirstein insists will go away "in a day or two," but it persists for a lot longer than that. One day, she receives a visit from a friend of hers named Hutch, who is concerned about her, and plans to look up an ingredient in the drink (as well as in a good luck charm Minnie had given her), called tannis root. She later gets a call from Hutch, asking to meet him the next day. But he doesn't show up for the meeting, having fallen into a coma. Rosemary eventually decides to quit seeing Dr. Sapirstein, on the advice of some other friends. But then the pain suddenly goes away, so she keeps seeing the doctor, after all.

A few months later, Hutch dies, and Rosemary receives a book he had wanted her to have, about witches. One of the witches in the book was a former resident of their apartment building, who had been a Satanist in the late 19th century. And Rosemary comes to suspect that Roman is actually his son, and may be a Satanist himself. So she's determined to protect her unborn baby, whom she believes the Castevets and their coven want to sacrifice once it's born. Of course, no one believes her, and she herself realizes that what she says sounds crazy.

Well, that's all I really want to reveal of the plot. I gotta say, it seemed to take a long time before anything really unusual started happening. I mean, Terry's death came fairly early on, but other than that, it seemed to me like half of the movie was just normal stuff, almost boring. (Actually, this is a problem I have with a lot of movies that were made before I was born. Something about camera work and story pacing that makes it hard for me to forget I'm watching a movie. There's a sort of unnaturalness that just feels different to me than modern movies. Of course, none of that is the fault of the movies themselves, and I suppose it wouldn't have been an issue for me if I'd been born a few decades earlier. And I can fully understand how people who were born earlier would have exactly the same problem with modern movies seeming less natural to them than older movies do.) Another problem I had was knowing before I watched the movie that it was a classic of the genre, supposedly one of the best horror movies ever made, so my expectations were high. Unfortunately, the movie never particularly managed to scare me, except in an academic sense. First of all, it's supposed to be obvious that something sinister was being set up in the first half of the movie, but I'm not sure I would have realized that if I hadn't known it was a horror movie. It just felt to me like almost any other movie made in the 60s, regardless of genre. (Or at least any movie made by an auteur of that era.) But at the same time, I couldn't help feeling like the movie had a lot in common with horror movies that critics might consider schlocky. In fact, if I didn't know it was considered a great movie, my opinion of it would probably be lower than it is (and it's already lower than the opinions of most critics).

The main thing that makes the movie decent, I think, is Farrow's performance. Even if I couldn't quite feel the terror Rosemary felt, I certainly sympathized with it. (I expect it would be easier for women, especially those who have been pregnant, to fully empathize with her situation than it was for me.) It's gotta be scary to have reason to believe people are plotting against you and your baby, and to have no one believe you, to have no one you can trust (including your spouse). And Farrow did a great job of conveying all that. (The other actors all struck me as strictly B-grade, at best.) But for me, the scariest thing was that for most of the movie, I genuinely wasn't sure whether Rosemary was right about what she thought was going on, or was just descending into madness. I'm not going to spoil the answer to that question, but I will say that when the truth is finally revealed, it makes the whole movie even creepier in retrospect (from Rosemary's point of view, if not necessarily the audience's). In any event, it is a decent movie, but I still can't really see it as great. But I'm glad some people think it's great, because knowing that they do allowed me to appreciate the movie more than I probably would have, otherwise.


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