Rosemary’s Baby saw Polanski’s immersive cinematography make its first big leap across the pond in 1968 to complete the second instalment of his “Apartment Trilogy”. The movie faithfully lives up to both the novel by Ira Levin it is based on, and to its chilling treatment of psychosis. It has certainly become a classic in the psychological horror movie industry with its concoction of supernatural and daily life still retaining all its fright half a century later.
Whilst the name of the movie might seem just as unsuspecting as the Woodhouse couple was when they first moved into their New York apartment, both are equally deceitful. The creaks and bangs heard around the building quickly assume a menacing feel following a tragic accident in the apartment block. This introduces the young pair to the eccentric older couple next door, the Castevets, which they initially take as the subject of their amusement. All excuses seem valid for their neighbours to introduce themselves first into their apartment, and then gradually into their lives.
Up until that point, Guy Woodhouse’s acting career had stagnated, but his newly found comfort in the Castevets’ comic hospitality along with another surprising mishap suddenly help relaunch it. Before the movie commits to its sour turn, the couple hope to add to the joys of their recent move with the prospect of becoming parents. On the same night that his wife Rosemary is seen tormented by some sinister nightmares, she finally falls pregnant. This then triggers both the onset of a painful early pregnancy and Rosemary’s realisation that their neighbours from hell cannot be called so lightly. As her suspicions and her appetite for red meat grow, her Catholic upbringing seems to resurface as she develops and obsession with witchcraft and satanism.
More and more inexplicable occurrences follow, such that we cannot help but share her distrust and angst as we ourselves inevitably believe that it may really be “all of them, all of them in it together”. The feeling of alienation she feels is infectious and forces us to question what would be most frightening: to mistrust her paranoia or to realise how helpless she might truly be. In a time where even the kindest of doctors will betray you or the ring from a telephone will set you into panic, Rosemary’s Baby introduces the occult into your friendly neighbourhood without you even suspecting it.
Despite most of the supernatural horror being reserved to a series of graphic dreamlike hallucinations, it is hard to resist the suffocating tension. Even when the music softens, the unnerving background tick of the clock follows the movie through to its end, leaving little time to breathe and much silence to scream into. That sinister impression did in fact linger onwards, long after the movie’s closing scene, with the devilish conspiracy troubling Rosemary having followed many of the people involved in the creation of the movie. Notably, the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife within months of the movie’s reception perpetuates its cursed storyline to this day.