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Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is More Than Just a Remake: Movie Review

Luca Guadagnino’s, Suspiria is an enrapturing, grotesque masterwork that will not be for everyone or possibly anyone.  

“Why is everyone so inclined to think the worst is over?”

This film is something that sticks with you. Almost all pictures are unique, little snowflakes in their own ways, but this one, this one right here is singularly strange. We are not going to see anything like it for a long time, or more likely forever as I believe it’s going to be the most divisive film of the year.

Suspiria (2018) follows seemingly plain Ohioan and ex-Mennonit, Suzy Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as she arrives at the prestigious Markos Dance Academy during the height of political crisis in a divided, 1977, Berlin. She soon finds herself in the center of a cornucopia of intrigue, witchcraft and horrific murder.

Spoiler-not-spoiler, her instructors are malignant witches locked in a power struggle over the future of their coven who see Suzy as the centerpiece of their revival and immediately start grooming her into a powerful entity. Culminating into a mind-blowing and startling ending.

The film’s prologue lets us onto the dark forces at play as we see manic, runaway dancer Patricia (Chloë Grace-Moretz) desperately try to explain to her psychiatrist, played by a heavily made-up Tilda Swinton (who is amazing in both her roles), the horrors she’s witnessed at the academy. “They’ll hollow me out and eat my c*nt on a plate” she tells him.

Not to get all sanctimonious and In The Age Of-y on ya, but it’s clear that Suspiria is making a blunt and effective statement about abuse of power in our institutions and the pains inflicted on victims of those abusers. Which is all the more relevant with the #MeToo movement and the cover-up of molestation by the Catholic Church.

One particularly heartrending scene early on portrays a unique viewpoint and does it wordlessly when Suzy is unwittingly used as a weapon to horrifically torture a fellow student. Reflecting the ways forces such as internalized misogyny and power work to turn victims on each other leaving the abusers untouched and free.

Visually it’s deeply competent and hauntingly beautiful many times. When I first saw photos and trailers for the film I was very sceptical of the stripping of color and the dour look of it all. I consider the original 1977 Suspiria to be the most beautiful horror film of all time and I believe that anyone can both get into and love it (I mean just look at these shots !).

However, after seeing this new edition, I now believe Guadagnino made the right decision. As much as I love the original look of the film it’s hard to strike lightning twice and going in the opposite direction does create a powerful and viable contrast. The original Suspiria is both a kooky slasher flick and an excessive expressionist folktale.

The 2018 Suspiria matches it in its over the top-ness but grounds the film’s framing in a paranoid, brutalist look, turning it into a paranoid thriller and modernist horror with sparklings of Lynch and Del Toro.

The paranoia theme is an inspired one, one of my favorite scenes in the original is a slow-building, anxiety nightmare as a blind character finds himself trapped and lost in the stark concrete of 70’s Berlin.The remake takes the idea of divided, brutalist Berlin and runs with it. Trying to recreate the atmosphere with news clippings and exquisite wardrobing.

One thing that carries over from both films is the feeling of powerlessness, the characters and audience are both imparted with as everything they do fails in the face of the witches all-seeing eyes. This is especially heightened in the 2018 version featuring some radical camera movement and wide shots leaving the viewer feeling that death could come from anywhere and there’s nothing the characters can do to prevent it.

Overall, it creates a politically charged and relevant motif that evil is coming to the world and it will dominate if ignored. I don’t want to give too much away, but the psychologist character is used greatly to illustrate the consequences of ignoring the horrors of the past and the pain of the present.

Now for the critical part. I said this movie is going to be divisive and trust me it will be. On a personal level, there are quite a few scenes that are viscerally upsetting, the body horror is jacked up to 11 and I’m not exactly the greatest lover of that type of horror (although I do believe it has a place). People that are squeamish should be warned, there are scenes of impalement and unnatural contortions.

Also, this is up for debate, but I feel some of the shots of the woman veer on exploitative and comport to the male gaze in a way the original laudably avoids. However, one can argue that it’s more in line with artful nudity and more about sexual liberation. I’d like to hear from both sides.

On a structural level it’s runtime of two hours and 32 minutes is a big ask. I feel, in a lot of ways, that’d it be better as a limited run series or if they went ahead and actually cut out many excessive things from the plot. It is an incredibly indulgent film that loves to gorge itself throughout and has deep artful pretensions (not that that’s bad at all).

You will also come out from it having no idea what the hell happened, there are many themes and plotlines that evaporate out of thin air and have a very tenuous connection to the meat of the film (Baader-Meinhof? Freemasonry? The Rise of Nazism?). It also relies on the supposed mythos of the original director Dario Argento’s films (Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebre, and Mother of Tears) that’s very loosely thrown together and likely doesn’t even pay off for the fans of those films.

This combined with having to pay close attention to sometimes unintelligible dialogue will leave you lost in the action quite a few times. I get the sense that even Guadagnino doesn’t even know what he’s truly doing here. There are also many scenes of both male and female nudity, but c’mon we’re all adults here.

Also in my minor complaint corner, I would like to add that the ending does feature what appears to be cheap looking CGI blood that really takes you out of the experience and looks absurd in my humble opinion. BIG NOTE TO DIRECTORS: STOP USING CGI BLOOD (angry huffing emoji x 3)

Overall the film is an enrapturing experience unlike almost any other. Thom Yorke’s score is the best horror score in years and lives up to Goblin’s original, while being totally opposite in terms of sound.  Bombast vs. the coldness of post-depression Yorke; it’s a slow but encapsulating piano with deep ambient sinks. “Suspirium” and “Unmade” are the standouts on the soundtrack with Yorke’s heartbreaking, spellbinding vocals.

The score was what really kept my eyes glued to the screen and elevated the film into something worth paying attention to. That and Tilda Swinton, who I have not mentioned enough, giving the performance of a lifetime as both head instructor and psychiatrist. She gives you such believability and manages to communicate pages of story with just her eyes.

In a fair and just world, both Yorke and Swinton would win the Oscars in their categories this year. Above all, if you have the time you should see the film just for its workmanship. There are many flaws in this film, but I feel bad expounding on them because I see the hands of so many artists involved in the making of this who wanted to leave unique, beautiful intricacies in it.

Hollywood has always punished originality and continues to be harsher and harsher on it, seeking only profit instead. There are far too many Thor 2’s and too little Thor:Ragnaroks. This film should not exist according to 21st Century film standards, there are many weird pieces of camerawork and ideas, far too many expensive little set-pieces and details that should be cut off, according to the high stakes market of current-day filmmaking.

For all it’s problems it boasts powerful messages and imagery that speak so loud, made by people who care for craftsmanship and for most of its runtime, it’s an engrossing cinematic experience.

 

Suspiria will hit select theaters November 2nd!

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