“Suspiria” Movie Review

Watching this film in the middle of the night during Thursday previews was definitely not a smart move on my part. This supernatural horror drama initially premiered as part of the official competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Following a series of divided reactions at other festivals like Fantastic Fest and early Halloween screenings, it was released in theaters worldwide by Amazon Studios on November 2nd, 2018. Thus far it has only grossed about $1.2 million on a budget of $20 million, although it seems to have mostly attracted a younger demographic and currently has the highest screen-per-average box office launch of the year. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, best know for Call Me By Your Name, he had been trying, as a producer, to get a remake of the original 1977 film by Dario Argento off the ground since at least 2008. After numerous actors and potential directors dropped from the project, Guadagnino opted to helm it himself, aided by A Bigger Splash screenwriter David Kajganich. It also helped create one of the most high-profile fake actors in history with the alleged casting of “Lutz Ebersdorf” in a key role. Although it shares a similar setting and even features original star Jessica Harper in a cameo, all parties have insisted that this is not a straight remake of the original film. Set during the German Autumn of 1977, Dakota Johnson plays Suzie Bannion, an American dancer from a small Mennonite family in Ohio. She is accepted and moves into the prestigious Markos Dance Academy in Berlin headed by lead choreographer Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton. A number of strange events occur, such as the disappearance of a radicalized American student named Patricia Hughes. Bannion soon realizes that the academy is being run by a history of sinister witchcraft, and is also investigated by psychoanalyst/Holocaust survivor Dr. Josef Klemperer. Although I haven’t yet watched the original film by Dario Argento, I can totally recognize why it’s considered a classic in the horror genre. From its gorgeous aesthetic and creepy imagery, there’s a lot of influence it’s had over the last 4 decades. I also watched Call Me By Your Name a few months ago on an international plane, and while I thought it was really good, there was a part of the story that felt incomplete. When I heard that that same director was next tackling a reimagining of Suspiria, I was skeptical if he would be able to pull it off. I was excited even more by the divided reaction it has received from critics and audiences thus far. And after watching it, I was almost completely gobsmacked; this is a genuine, flawed masterpiece. First of all, I fully know that not everyone is going to appreciate this movie as much as I or others may. Aside from last year’s Mother!, it’s hard for me to think of a more controversial film in recent memory released by a big-name distributor. Like that picture, it’s very easy for me to recognize where the film will falter for many viewers, as some may see its themes and ideas as either too ambiguous or too blatant. There’s an almost Kubrickian approach to the style and format of storytelling, practically encouraging discussion among audiences. I have a fair grasp on what it was talking about, such as how fascism and national guilt for atrocities is far from a thing of the past. (The historical setting certainly helps with that) It may require a rewatch to fully understand what Guadagnino and Kajganich were going for. Dakota Johnson completely wipes her Fifty Shades fame away here with her most substantial and physically challenging role to date as Suzie Bannion. Her shyness and somewhat quiet attitude reflects an innocence in grave danger at this academy, as she slowly unravels the horrors behind the curtains. Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton continues her fruitful collaboration with the director in no less than three(!) different roles. The first is obviously Madame Blanc, the stern and brilliant director of the institute who tries to instill a maternal grace and mentorship in her young wards. The second is Josef Klemperer, who was officially credited and marketed as a real-life psychoanalyst named “Lutz Ebersdorf.” Her transformation under heavy makeup (Prosthetic penis included) is convincing as a Holocaust survivor who may be too curious for “his” own good. The third role is a secret, but let’s just say that it seemed unnecessary for her to adopt another role. Other significant players include Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Elena Fokina as terrified fellow dance students at the academy while Angela Winkler, Małgosia Bela, and original Suspiria star Jessica Harper in small but vital roles. Everyone has something to add that makes the journey even more spooky and spell-binding. Meanwhile, in a year loaded with brilliant horror films, Suspiria might just be the technical masterpiece of them all. Guadagnino reunites with his Call Me By Your Name cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for the camerawork, and it’s a dynamic show. Shot on 35 mm film stock, this remake forgoes the original’s use of bright primary colors in favor of something deliberate more dull and cold, as if it were a fevered nightmare in winter. The use of special techniques, such as whip pans and sudden zooms, makes it feel like a subtle homage to horror films of past decades. Walter Fasano edits the film in a beautiful way that matches everything. Using parallel scenes as cutaways makes some otherwise mundane moments rather frightening and real. This especially comes during the central dance sequence, which lasts nearly 6 minutes but thanks to appropriate cuts and movement kept me on the edge of my seat. The lush and sensual choreography by Damien Jalet certainly helped, but it would not have been as compelling had it not been for the intense editing work. Following in the footsteps of his former band member, Radiohead lead singer and front man Thom Yorke composes and conducts his first score for a feature film. With the soundtrack he’s created, one has to wonder why he’s never written music for a film before. (“Exit Music For a Film” not withstanding) The film opens and closes in its credits with a haunting ballad called “Suspirium,” which helps establish the melancholic, ominous atmosphere to be found throughout the 2-hour and 30 minute-long journey. Other tracks consist of Yorke’s soothing yet strained voice and dynamic chord progressions from piano and synthesized brass. The aforementioned dance sequence is accompanied by a gorgeously tense opera of different instrumentations, written as though Igor Stravinsky himself rose from the dead and composed a score for a horror epic. With gruesome imagery matched with heavy thematic weight and some of the most extravagant dance sequences in film this side of Black Swan, Suspiria is an audacious coven of pure cinematic evil. It’s perfectly easy for me to see why this won’t work for everyone out there, but I couldn’t help but be awestruck by what Luca Guadagnino and David Kajganich set out to accomplish. I can’t say whether or not it’s superior to the original, but I can say that what transpired on-screen will stick with me for quite a long time- for better and for worse.

1 thought on ““Suspiria” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: The 20 Best Films of 2018 | Geek's Landing

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