Fully diving into the ethics of separating art from the artist would require its own article; for the purpose of this review, my praise of this movie is not an approval of Roman Polanski’s personal character. People should face accountability for their actions, but I don’t think said accountability should be pretending like somebody’s preexisting work suddenly becomes taboo after they have been exposed as a bad person. My review follows:
From the very first minute of Rosemary’s Baby, you know that there is something…off. Opening credits appear in a pink font over footage of New York City as a lullaby plays in the background, yet the viewer instantly is uncomfortable and alert to the fact that there is a horrible evil lurking beneath the surface, ready to burst between the seams and reveal itself at any given moment. But what is it?
While discovering the answer to this question is certainly thrilling, it’s the act of not knowing what you’re afraid of that makes Rosemary’s Baby one of the greatest horror films of all time. Few movies boast the level of patience or restraint that you’ll find here, slowly giving you pieces of information that will affirm your suspicions, throw you off-guard, or make you question whether you’re losing your mind entirely. The real horror stems from this constant state of paranoia, as your sense of trust and reality itself gradually disintegrates throughout the movie all leading up to a fever-dream finale that isn’t just one of the best horror sequences ever, but one of the most epic gut-punches in cinematic history.
You’re not the only that’s paranoid, though; Rosemary is too. Having just moved into a new apartment with her husband, Rosemary is eagerly expecting the birth of her first child, yet the equal (if not greater) enthusiasm of her new neighbors threaten her motherly instincts and keep her up at night. Like many great horror movies, many of the scary elements here exist within mundane fears, and using the anxiety of an expecting mother to keep you second-guessing who you can trust is a clever dynamic given emotional weight by Mia Farrow’s amazing performance. As a viewer, you also never get a piece of information before Rosemary does, firmly keeping you in her unstable mental state the entire movie.
Rosemary’s fears are so grounded that Rosemary’s Baby might not even feel like a horror movie within the world of over-the-top, supernatural horror movies that exist today. An ‘edge-of-your-seat scene’ could be as nonchalant as an encounter with a stranger while taking out the laundry, yet the fact that the movie gets so much mileage out of moments as seemingly inconspicuous as this is why it keeps you in its grasp and never lets you go; if you can’t feel safe during a casual conversation, when can you ever feel safe?
When this uncomfortable brewing of tension culminates in shocking fashion, the whole movie takes on a new light that makes repeat viewings uniquely eerie. Even in this moment and the dizzying dream sequence that are more typical ‘horror movie scenes,’ the movie still boasts a clever restraint in terms of what the audience sees or doesn’t see, as Polanski is astutely aware that sometimes no imagery can compare to the depths of the audience’s imagination. What could be more fitting for a horror movie aimed at driving you crazy about what you don’t know?