Rosemary’s Baby / Roman Polanski / 1968 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Great ensemble cast; Pacing and plotting; Sinister suspense
Side Effects: More quietly unsettling than truly frightening

Hitchcock may have been the master of suspense, but Roman Polanski, at his best certainly has a masterly grasp of the craft. Polanski’s suspense tends to be darker than Hitchcock’s, more macabre and devilish, undertones which are beautifully displayed in his masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby. There’s a workmanlike quality to the way Polanski casts a spell over the audience (the same craft is on display in last year’s The Ghost Writer), but his skill and precision belie the strong personal stamp he puts on his work.

Part of Polanski’s loose “apartment trilogy” (along with 1965’s Repulsion and 1976’s The Tenant), Rosemary’s Baby investigates the physical and psychological decline of a pregnant woman caught in a plot to birth the spawn of the devil. The camera literalizes Rosemary’s isolation and desperation, creating visual space even in the film’s many interior scenes. At the height of his powers, Polanski here uses everything at his disposal to create suspense. The very expressive apartment set glows with nightmarish lighting, but the cinematography is never reduced to a simple horror trick. The director’s subtle touch is mirrored even in the ambient sounds that float into Rosemary’s apartment: a solo piano practicing down the hall, or the yells of children on the streets below. Finally, Polanski plots and paces the film brilliantly, dropping clues deliberately, almost playfully.

Rosemary’s Baby is the assured work of a director with true technical craft and, more importantly, a personal artistic vision, from it’s methodical, menacing beginning to its potent, darkly comedic finale.