Starring: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania
Director: Nicolas Roeg
John (Sutherland) and Laura (Christie) Baxter are struggling to deal with the accidental death of their young daughter, and take up restoration work in Venice, Italy, to try to move on. Laura seems to be unable to cope very well until two older ladies give her a psychic message from beyond the grave. Though this message helps Laura to start to heal, more words from beyond soon follow that try to warn them that something very bad is coming.
Shot in Venice, the film is often overcast and grey, which adds to the feeling of sadness, a lack of brightness. It’s not gloomy, but moody perhaps. The locations are quite beautiful, there’s something about the old architecture of the city, with it’s canals, bridges and little lanes, that feels more ghostly and mysterious than another city might. With the figure of the red coated girl fluttering through, she pops, standing out in her swift, small stature. A bright figure among the darker greys and browns.
It’s also an interesting choice of city, since the canals are such a prominent part of life there, an odd place to retreat to when your daughter has died of drowning. It adds a level of the macabre.
But the larger focus is on the couple. I always find it odd to see Donald Sutherland in the role of father or lover, not because he can’t play that role well, but because my first exposure to him has always been as a villain. I think it’s those eyebrows. Here he is quite a sympathetic creature, a loving father and a passionate husband, trying to save his wife from herself, and living with his own grief. Julie Christie is so beautiful in this film. I haven’t seen a great deal of her films til this year, and I really like her work. She’s beautiful and emotive, drawing you into her inner world. She struggles in a different way than her husband to come to terms with her feelings, not able to come out of the darker stages of grieving. It’s a really well realised film when it comes to the emotional life of the couple and their struggle with grief.
But at heart, it is a supernatural horror. The film functions more as a tense thriller than a jump scare fest, building on each little clue or odd event to create a mystery and eeriness that gets under your skin. The old ladies who want to help Laura and her husband are both delightful, kind and disconcerting somehow. They seem friendly, but their otherworldly aspect makes you wonder if they’re not also a bit sinister. What is their real intention?
John, on the other hand, finds himself seeing things that don’t entirely make sense, his daughter disappearing around corners, his wife when she isn’t there, and also barely escaping little accidents. Can he figure out what’s really going on before it’s too late?
I really enjoyed this film, it’s not one that will ever date, really, and the twist in the end feels really uncomfortable, weird and shocking. I didn’t know before watching it that it’s based on a Daphne Du Maurier story, and it makes a lot of sense. It has all the hallmarks of her compassionate and creepy story style. Wonderful.
See It If: you like spooky stories, horror with a little psychological aspect, and a thrilling strangeness. It’s a wonderful, eery film.