Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rosemary's Baby part 2 - “It wasn't a miscarriage, Michael...”

Well, about a week later, we finally bring this demonic plane in for a landing.

To recap last here.
Or, if you're a very busy person - in which case, damned if I know why you're spending time here. Don't get me wrong, I'm flattered, but it is a bit strange from a logic standpoint – part one introduced us to Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse – fresh-faced Americans trying to make it in the big city of Paris. Guy is offered his shot at the brass ring, and all it takes is offering up his wife's babymaker to Satan for nine months. Ending on a cliffhanger that saw Rosemary having her fateful 'big night' in...rather underwhelming fashion.

Which brings us to now...

We start with things literally the morning after the end of part one. Rosemary doesn't remember much of the night before and sees scratches and realizes – at least as far as she's concerned – she and Guy made the Shakespearean beast with two backs. I cite this more specifically because, to be honest, this is one of those changes – and this part actually has a few – that I have to give them points for. For my issues with Saldana's performance in this version overall, seeing her version of Rosemary look at Guy's cover story of admittedly doing the deed with her while she was passed out and going “WAIT A MINUTE...” was a good idea on the writers' parts. Of course, like so many of the little things this does right, it's quickly forgotten.

While I'm looking at the minor bits of praise, I should give credit where it's due from when I discussed this last time.

The people behind this one did promise a bit more of a look at the aspect of loss of agency in pregnancy in this version compared to the old Polanski adaptation. The good news is, this aspect they handle overall well. The bad news is, they don't handle it particularly often. It's one of those elements of the story that actually benefits from the update, but whenever it turns up, it's all too quickly forgotten in the interests of getting back to the horror elements of the story.

Said horror elements being one thing this version continues to wield with all the subtlety of a raging PCP addict. While watching this, I've been trying not to do too much comparing to the Polanski version in order to be fair to this adaptation on its own terms. At the same time, the difference between the two also really helps highlight the problems with this newer version. Probably the biggest of these is the fact that, as I said last time, this movie REALLY doesn't have much of a sense of subtlety going for it. Certainly not any more here than they did in part one in any case.

When the baby is the spawn of the devil, it raises the question - the fight is one-sided, but in whose favor?

The demonic kills, in particular, showing this version's lack of restraint. Now, to their credit, the first of these- which involves a mutual friend of Rosemary and Guy, played by Cristina Cole- is actually a sound idea on paper. It's one that genuinely feels like it could be taken for an accident. The problem with it arises in the fact that this version is not content with just a simple “oh no, how unfortunate!” It spends more time than it really needs drawing out the scene before a payoff that feels almost too graphic to be believable. The sad part being, this is still worlds better than the second of the big kills, involving a French police commissioner (Olivier Rabourdin) whose role seems to be solely to further build suspicion about Roman Castevet. The scene in question is a needlessly drawn out sequence with probably one of the worst soundtrack choices in the entire film. By the time it gets to what's supposed to be its big 'shock' moment, you can see where it was coming from a mile away.

However, even before his death, the commissioner is indicative of one of the issues that's been prevalent in this miniseries and especially this part – despite being what the story is named for, Rosemary's pregnancy ultimately takes a backseat to her game of 'what are my neighbors up to?' For example, let's consider Rosemary's blowout with Guy, a scene that, in the original work, takes a while to build to before Rosemary finally hits her breaking point. Here, she hits it within the first twenty minutes (and again, she's only been pregnant as of the start of this part.) For a story about being pregnant with the devil's child, the filmmakers seem to be altogether bored with the actual pregnancy, and quickly breeze through many of those scenes so they can pad out the story with more spookhouse scares. Even when Rosemary finally starts to figure everything out, the idea that they want her child is almost an afterthought in the overall reveal. When Rosemary is later angry with Guy's altogether flippant attitude towards the idea of the loss of their child, it comes across as hypocritical of the writers this time around.

Of course, to give Guy his due, this version does continue to try to build up his character. The result of which creates an awkward two-step. Guy alternates between being concerned for Rosemary's well-being and being repelled by her with the knowledge he's let someone else knock his wife up. I'm still not sure if this was to make him more sympathetic or just give the story more dimension. Either way, Patrick J. Adams seems to have missed the memo, as he continues to just be sort of there for everyone else to just act off of. It's something of a shame here, since I get the sense that they wanted Guy's arc to be one where he slowly gives in to the temptations being offered. Unfortunately, Adams only really has one mode in this, so it's more like he just decides one day "maybe I'll try something different by being a jerk to my pregnant wife." Again, I keep trying not to compare to the older version, but it's hard to do in cases like this – John Cassevetes did a great job making Guy start off somewhat likable and believably slide into utter scumbag territory. Here, Guy is really only despicable by virtue of some “did he seriously just say that” lines of dialogue, and even those could have benefited from a better delivery. By the very end, he could have just vanished from this version altogether and it wouldn't really impact anything at all.

"...okay, line? Am I supposed to be caring and concerned or an utter prick here?"

Adams aside, the cast continue to be a mixed bag. To her credit, Saldana is actually putting in more of an effort than I expected, but even then, she's still limited. At many points, she soft-balls what are supposed to be the harsher scenes emotionally, and the impact is lost. Meanwhile, Isaacs and Bouquet continue to play up the “look how bloody evil we really are and no one suspects a thing” version of the Castevets here. While I do have to give them some points for the fact they at least feel like they're having fun with their parts, but it continues to highlight the problem with the fact that this version really doesn't have any moderation in how it depicts things. It's constantly cranked to eleven, often to unintentionally comic end – they even have a black cat act as a foreshadowing plot device!

"Who's the cutest little piece of on the nose foreshadowing?
YOU'RE the cutest little piece of on the nose foreshadowing!"
(Yeah, this image is actually from part one, but i hadn't discussed this then, so...)

Beyond these cast members, many of the rest are just sticking to line reads. It's a little sad that, for having an extra hour of screen time to build up its plot, this version feels barer than the original, with many characters either removed or replaced with less fleshed out equivalents.

Which is actually the biggest problem this adaptation has. It has more time to tell the story, but it actually feels like it does less with it in turn. Instead, either because they don't see any need to hide the twist now that it's known, or just because it's not their style, they don't have any patience for a slow burn. This miniseries is in a constant state of playing up scares that are less at home in Rosemary's Baby, and more at in something like The Devil's Advocate or the 2006 remake of The Omen. Unfortunately, that constant bombardment causes a viewer to grow numb to it, and by part two, many of the scenes of Satanic reveal in this version just feel tedious. By the time they got to what was supposed to be the big shock finale – seeing the titular baby (yes, you see it in this version) – it has no real impact at all.
Not that that's helped by the ultimately underwhelming reveal of the baby – a scene that's surprisingly staid for how overt much of this version gets, but I digress on that point.

Because if you don't talk to your child about Spice addiction, who will?

In all, this update of Rosemary's Baby can be summed up as a missed opportunity. Once I got past my initial automatic reflex, I had to admit, and still will admit, it has potential to be updated done right. Unfortunately for them, this version was not it. It too readily indulged in overt horror and, as a result, many of the moments that were supposed to scare or surprise in the original story are lost in the screams and the blood the new version has slammed on viewers.

Maybe in another twenty years or so, another filmmaker will feel ambitious enough to do this. Until that time, however, this version isn't likely to be all that remembered from here on out. It was a nice attempt, but these people just weren't the ones to do it.

Sorry this one was a bit shorter than last time. Given how many of the issues here were carryovers, it limited what I could really go into.

Next entry to come soon.

Till next time.

In closing let me just say - that's enough Margaux.
I'm not sure why the writers felt she needed to come on to both Rosemary and Guy, but it's really kind of pointless here.
Not sure if this is supposed to be a 'decadent wealthy people' angle or 'hey, they're European', but it just...yeah...

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