A young couple moves into an apartment with strange neighbors, but when the wife Rosemary becomes pregnant, she begins to feel as if people are after her unborn child.
The first film I ever reviewed for True Myth Media was Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, which is the last movie in his Apartment trilogy. I believe in that review I stated that I believe the Apartment Trilogy to be one of the best horror trilogies ever made (perhaps the best ever made), and I still stand by that statement. Polanski is not a director that makes horror films with graphic overblown killings like Dario Argento (“Phenomena”, “Suspiria”), nor is he a man that leaves little to the imagination, like Friedkin in “The Exorcist”; Polanski is a subtle director, and as such, his horror films are often far more psychological than anything else. But his horror films, while they might not be as graphic in visual detail, have stories that linger far beyond normal horror flicks.
I had only seen this film once before my rewatch last night, but there are certain scenes and sequences that I remembered extremely well. Polanski is great at getting you to care about Rosemary, and truly fear for her child, which makes it all the more terrifying when the revelation at the end of this film is finally unveiled. As this is a fifty-year-old film, and it’s difficult to talk about the meaning of some of the subtext throughout this movie without revealing the end, I will warn you that this review will contain some spoilers.
Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes, “Love Streams”), a struggling actor, move into a new apartment where they are greeted by their eccentric but seemingly friendly elderly neighbors, Minnie (Ruth Gordon, “Harold and Maude”) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer, “High Society”). The Castevets seem rather lonely and Guy suggests they befriend them after having a dinner at their home, and Rosemary reluctantly agrees. The young couple begins trying for a baby, and soon Rosemary becomes pregnant, though she’s plagued by confusing and disturbing nightmares. As her pregnancy continues, Rosemary becomes certain that her neighbors are involved in something sinister, and she worries for the safety of her child.
I already mentioned above that this review will be rather spoiler heavy, but I’ll reemphasize that one more time as I’m about to give away details from the ending. Still here? Near the end of the film, Rosemary becomes certain that her neighbors belong to a coven of witches that are bent on using her baby’s blood for a spell, but it turns out that their intentions were much darker. The coven used Rosemary as a vessel to bring forth the antichrist.
Now the first time through this movie, I remembered not entirely being sure why this was revered as a horror classic (I first watched this when I was a young high school student); I found the ending was disturbing but the rest of the film felt more like a drama than anything else. Upon my rewatch, I found that younger Seth was very naïve with his first viewing. Where this film succeeds in being terrifying is with the multiple layers of subtext that, when thought about in hindsight, gives every scene a disquieting effect. Even from the beginning, when things really start to get strange, we hear things off screen that sound slightly off; conversations coming through the walls, strange chants… things that wouldn’t be normal in everyday apartment living. Polanski loves to use those off-screen sounds to put the viewer off balance- he does it in all three of the films in his apartment trilogy (“Repulsion”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Tenant”)- from furniture or people moving, to muffled conversations, to banging and clanging… It adds to a sense of carefully crafted paranoia. Polanski is powerfully aware that he’s playing with your senses, getting you to ask the questions of who is behind the walls and what they are doing. Rosemary is a likeable and charming protagonist, but she’s also smart. She starts to put together things on her own, like the fact that her husband might even be in on the plot, and that’s where things really start to get dark: the implications of what must be going on behind the scenes. I’ve mentioned Polanski’s subtlety a few times in this review already, and by that I mean that he likes to hide things from the audience, but at the same time show the results of the unseen action. For example, right after Rosemary and Guy have dinner with the Castavet’s, one of Guy’s rival actors has an accident that makes him blind. Rosemary thinks nothing of it, as she’s done nothing wrong, but Guy’s reaction seems off, as if he’s suddenly aware he’s messing with something he shouldn’t have messed with. The next morning, without reason, he buys Rosemary two-dozen roses. The situation by itself might seem harmless, but Polanski does an amazing job of emphasizing the actions just enough so that they seem slightly out of place, leaving little hints of the darkness dwelling beneath the surface.
While the subtext in the writing of this film is the driving force that truly makes it great, this movie would be nothing without its lead actors. Mia Farrow is absolutely captivating as Rosemary; she is simultaneously strong and vulnerable, intelligent and naïve, and rational yet paranoid. Rosemary is such a remarkably complicated character, one that is forced to live quite literally through Hell, but it’s her journey through Hell that lets us see the layers of her character. She loves her husband, but feels nervous when he starts to act strangely; she wants to protect her baby, but isn’t sure if her husband is trying to help at all; she wants to believe that her neighbors are helping her, but they keep instructing her to avoid different doctors and other advice. There are just so many ways that Rosemary is pulled, and Mia Farrow pulls it off amazingly. I also really like the complexities in Guy’s character (though he is far more self-centered), as he attempts to rationalize the ceremony to which he’s committed his wife. Ruth Gordon won her Oscar for her portrayal of their overbearing neighbor Minnie, and she did a wonderful job too. I think the thing I liked most about her performance was her ability to come off as simply a worried old lady while simultaneously giving off the allusion of hiding something else. This film has some truly brilliant performances from the whole cast, and genius direction from Polanski throughout.
While this horror film isn’t one that I think modern audiences would find particularly terrifying, as psychological horror piece, it still works wonders. This is the kind of film that might not scare you as much as films like “Hereditary”, but its one that you’ll have a hard time forgetting. Even as I lay down to sleep last night, my mind still running over the horrors I’d just revisited, my mind kept running back to certain scenes… What did Roman say to Guy to convince him to join in the ceremony? How could Guy participate in such a thing? And most importantly, after Roman revealed that Rosemary’s baby was the antichrist… did Rosemary stay and raise the baby, that is, does she raise the antichrist? How could she leave… after all, she his mother…
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