Moral panic is nothing new. Just as conspiracy theorists nowadays think a group of elites are hoarding children underneath pizza restaurants, every era has had its “secret enemy” that some believed to be hiding in the shadows.
In the 1980s, for example, there was a rising concern that Satanic cults were holding rituals and sacrifices all over the country — hence the nickname, “Satanic panic.”
A decade or so earlier, a film arrived that challenged this exact narrative — a film that just so happens to be one of the single most iconic horror movies of all time, and is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, directed by Roman Polanski, is considered to be one of the first art-horror movies. Though the horror takes a while to build up, the art is clear from the get-go. If you’re able to separate Polanski’s art from Polanski the artist, you’ll come to appreciate the sparse filmmaking as young mother-to-be Rosemary tries to settle into her new apartment with her husband.
As the pregnancy progresses, Rosemary becomes increasingly paranoid about her strange neighbors and the eerie myths surrounding the apartment building. Her concerns are cast aside as merely a side effect of her pregnancy, but she insists something doesn’t feel right.
As her pregnancy causes her to grow weaker, she begins to suspect all those around her may be in on the conspiracy and must be sedated. She’s unconscious when she gives birth, and when she comes to, she realizes all her concerns were correct — and it’s far worse than she first suspected.
Rosemary’s Baby taps into a very well-explored subject, especially in horror films — the psychosis that can be involved in a pregnancy. Though often dismissed as hysteria, post-partum depression, paranoia, and psychosis are all real complications that can affect both mother and child. This was most recently explored in the 2018 movie Tully, which used post-partum psychosis to explain an entire character’s existence.
For fans of horror films, Rosemary’s Baby is a must-see. For fans of cult movies, this film teaches an important lesson about how people can claim something feels wrong until the cows come home, but if they’re not in a position where they can’t be absolutely believed, their fears will be dismissed.
Rosemary’s Baby provided the blueprint of art-horror films, paranoia dramas, and cult movies as a whole. Beyond the pioneering narrative, the entire film is carried by Mia Farrow’s unassuming yet fierce insistence of the conspiracy, making this movie a thrilling ride even if you’re horror-movie averse.
Rosemary’s Baby is now streaming on Amazon Prime.