In the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, young couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an apartment complex to start a family. Soon after, Rosemary begins to suspect her and her unborn child aren’t safe around her unusual neighbors. As the film progresses, Rosemary suspects her husband is involved with the neighbors in a plot to take her child to use in their satanic coven. What makes Rosemary’s Baby so unique is how thrilling and tense the movie becomes, even though Rosemary has no concrete proof of any plot against her. This constant state of confusion and trying to decipher if Rosemary is right or is completely crazy is what makes the movie such a classic. Rosemary’s Baby uses its unique setting, intense paranoia, and the uneasy feeling of helplessness to become one of the most effective psychological horror movies ever.Rosemary’s Baby opens with an aerial view of New York City. Although Rosemary and Guy are from Omaha and Baltimore, they decide to move to New York to further Guy’s acting career. New York is a great location for Rosemary’s Baby. There’s something so unnerving about a coven of witches in America’s biggest city. It’s even scarier they all live in one apartment complex. The film puts Guy and Rosemary right in the middle of the hornet’s nest. The Bramford, the apartment building Rosemary and Guy move into, is the perfect example of New York Gothic. While the apartments are still as lavish as they were when the building was built, they’ve obviously seen better days. When Guy and Rosemary are touring the building, they notice floor tiles broken and cracked walls. This gives the audience the feeling that something could go wrong there. It’s not a newly built house they’re buying; it’s a building with an unpleasant history. They learn this from their friend Hutch. He tells them that the Bramford is where the Trench Sisters cooked and ate children, including their niece. Perhaps Rosemary and Guy didn’t believe him or they didn’t see a problem with it since it happened so long ago. Nonetheless, they move in. In doing so, the film places Rosemary in the midst of those who are a danger to her. This unique location contributes substantially to the psychological horror of the film – it turns Rosemary’s home, somewhere that should be safe, into a dangerous place.
Today, most horror movies show everything and leave nothing to the imagination. Rosemary’s Baby does the complete opposite, until the very end. Of course, there’s an array of clues and suspicions that Rosemary isn’t safe but none are proven. The audience experiences these suspicions through Rosemary, so the audience has to figure out themselves if they believe Rosemary or think she’s completely crazy. The film doesn’t make that easy. There’s a number of scenes that make you believe Rosemary. Perhaps the first scene is the night Rosemary and Guy are going to try and have a baby. Their neighbor, Minnie, brings over chocolate mousse for them to eat. Rosemary tastes a chalky undertaste while Guy insists she eats it. After dinner, she passes out. She then has a dream that something inhuman is raping her. She wakes up with scratches, and Guy explains he didn’t want to wait to make a baby, so he had sex with her while she was unconscious. The implications here is that Guy raped Rosemary. The audience is forced to sympathize with her, but it’s hard to decipher if her dream was just a dream or really something devilish raping her. On the other hand, some of Rosemary’s reasoning is so outrageous, it’s hard to take her seriously. In one scene, she’s reading from a book and suspects Guy is in on the coven’s plan just to further his acting career. She believes the coven put a spell on a fellow actor to blind him, leaving Guy up for the part. This constant pull between wanting to believe her and wanting to think she’s crazy is one of the reasons Rosemary’s Baby is so memorable and extremely effective.
As the film progresses, the audience starts to see how helpless Rosemary is. There are a few times when Rosemary is so close to getting help and escaping the coven, but nothing ever changes. The best example is towards the end of the film when she calls Doctor Hill from a phone booth. This scene epitomizes everything Rosemary has been feeling. The entire scene is one long take, which forces the audience to feel like they are there with her, and they can’t look away from her. The scene has no music either, just the diegetic sounds of New York. After finally getting Doctor Hill on the phone, she rambles, “Dr. Hill there’s a plot. I know that sounds crazy, you’re probably thinking.. My god, this poor girl has really flipped”. Towards the end of the call, a tall figure comes right up to the phone booth, and suspenseful music finally starts to play. After the call, the figure turns around, the music turns peaceful. It’s just someone wanting to use the phone. Doctor Hill agrees to see her and she goes and tells him everything she knows. He seemingly agrees with what she says, and lets her go sleep in one of his rooms. For Rosemary and the audience, this is a huge relief. After being alone the entire movie, Rosemary finally has someone to help her. When Rosemary wakes up, Guy and all of her neighbors pour in the room, sedating Rosemary. This comes as a huge shock to everyone. There’s a great shot of Rosemary, Guy, and her obstetrician. Rosemary is in the left corner cowering and looking up at Dr. Sapirstein. Only Sapirstein’s torso is showing, revealing how powerful he is and how powerless Rosemary is. To make the shot even more symbolic, Guy is in the background pacing around, nervous. This shows how he wants to save Rosemary but he already made a deal with the coven so he couldn’t back out. The audience soon comes to the conclusion that no one could help Rosemary.
All of these aspects of Rosemary’s Baby build up to the incredible final scene, where all of Rosemary’s suspicions were true, and she gave birth to the devil’s child. As anyone would be, she’s shocked and not willing to accept. But her maternal instincts kick in, and she accepts to care for the child. The ending perfectly wraps up all the clues and notions both the audience and Rosemary had throughout the movie. It truly makes Rosemary’s Baby a classic psychological horror movie.