In Roman Polanski’s artful horror classic Rosemary’s Baby, he attempts to scare two demographics: people of religion and nervous, expecting mothers. Of course, he was aiming to do more than that, but those audiences may have taken more out of the film than others. Polanski crafts a slow-burning, paranoia-inducing horror film that has been engaging audiences for fifty years.
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) are looking for a new apartment to start their family and decide to move into the Bramford despite its alleged association with cannibalism and murder. After befriending their elderly neighbors Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) and Guy securing an acting job, the couple decide it is the right time to have a baby. On the night they plan to conceive, Rosemary experiences a dreamlike vision in which she is raped by a demonic presence in front of a naked group of her apartment tenants. When she wakes up to find scratches on her body, Guy informs her that since he didn’t want to miss the chance to conceive, he had sex with her while she was unconscious. Shortly afterwards, Rosemary begins to experience strange occurrences that she believes her pregnancy is responsible for.
The film, based on the 1967 novel, was Polanski’s American debut. He had dabbled in the genre before, but Rosemary’s Baby gave him the chance to truly hone his horror chops. What he crafted was more psychological thriller than horror, but it is so expertly executed that the viewer does not even take notice – nor do they mind. What makes great horror is not just surprising jump-scares or unsettling premises, but the slow, suspense-building paranoia that envelopes most of the film.
Gordon and Blackmer are excellent in their elderly, evil roles, shifting seamlessly from trustworthy and suspicious. At first, Cassavetes shines at what seems like a doting husband, but becomes more sinister as the film goes on. Farrow gives an electrifying performance, perhaps even her greatest, completely gripping the viewer into feeling the turmoil her character experiences.
Two standout scenes that showcase the Polanski’s talents and cement Rosemary’s Baby as a horror classic are the dream sequence and the ending scene. After eating chocolate mousse given to her by Minnie, Rosemary falls into a dream-like state. Polanski paints this “dream” as a surrealistic nightmare in which Rosemary eventually comes to the overwhelming conclusion that she is not dreaming at all. The ending scene in which Rosemary finally gets a glimpse of her baby is brilliant because the audience never gets to see what is so terrifying. Nothing scares the viewer more than the feeling of never knowing, and that is exactly what Polanski accomplishes. Farrow’s hysterical performance, the frantic camera work, and the haunting music all contribute to hitting the viewer with the final reveal, like an evil parallel to the story of Christ’s birth, leaving them in an almost stunned silence as soon as it’s over.