“I didn’t think it was gonna be like this.”
You don’t have to love a movie to appreciate its greatness. To be quite honest, I’m not sure I really even liked Suspiria, and I’m still confused by what the movie tries to say on a psychological or metaphysical level. If anything, I felt left in want, pining for something that has no interest in reciprocating the adoration and praise I now shower it with. And yet days later I cannot stop contemplating its meaning. It’s an exquisite, austere, uncomfortable moviegoing experience made by a passionate, expert filmmaker. Like me, you don’t have to love it. I just hope you appreciate its mastery of the medium.
Born to a Mennonite family in the farmlands of rural Ohio, the cool and confident Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson) shuns her upbringing for a world abroad. As a child she sits at the table, drawing lines on a map toward Berlin. A trip across the Atlantic seems inevitable, at times even prophetic. Susie makes her way there, auditioning for a spot at the world-renowned Markos Dance Academy. They are considered the crème de la crème, and Susie makes an immediate, hypnotizing impression, especially on the dumbfounded, slack-jawed Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), the leader of the company. In a film full of secrets and ambiguities, the way Madame Blanc looks at Susie says more than most of their shared dialogue attempts to convey; Susie has met her idol and Blanc has finally found the perfect pupil. What they each want from this relationship is a different story though.
Suspiria cuts back and forth between the mysterious, opaque mirrors and walls and halls of the monolithic Academy with the life of Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton under pounds of prosthetics…it’s important that the only prominent male character is in fact played by a woman.) Josef attempts to treat Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), a runaway, seemingly schizophrenic former member of the troupe who gravitates towards the Marxist tendencies of 1977’s Red Army Faction. It’s here where 2018’s Suspiria greatly separates itself from Dario Argento’s Giallo original released, by no coincidence of course, in the same year this reimagining decides to take place. Whereas Argento’s movie was an ichorous house of horrors fueled by hysteria, writer/director Luca Guadagnino elaborates on and seriously elongates the scope of the story, branching outside the walls of the Markos Dance Academy to incorporate the shared madness of the times. As institutions in Berlin are being beleaguered by Molotov Cocktails, the same type of petrol bombs are going off in the minds of the young dancers. There’s very little separation between art and life.
Suspiria is the kind of long-winded, interpretative, frustrating film that practically demands the viewer to down an aperitif before going in, cleansing the palette and preparing the mind and the body for two and half hours of sensational overload. In my opinion, Guadagnino attempts to do too much, bringing a mythical story to life without first establishing the fundamental nature of the underlying mythology or the overall possible trajectory, and these missing pieces are all the more maddening because the rest of the picture is so intricately fine-tuned. Suspiria will not appeal to mathematical, scientific minds who rely on proof and absolute solutions. This is a film for speculative, critical thinkers. For people who accept that not all things need to be known or all actions understood. You can’t find profound answers unless you ask enough questions.
Luca Guadagnino, hot off the heels of 2015’s A Bigger Splash and 2017’s Call Me by Your Name – if they were dances, the former would be a tryst filled, ecstatic twist & shout love affair while the latter is an overwhelming, pitch perfect emotional waltz – proves himself to be one of our time’s great auteurs with this sensational, spellbinding kinesiology study of the physical body and the abstract mind. He’s a humble imaginary, grounding his pictures in quick sequences which give importance to otherwise tchotchke details. Pots and pans and tables and windows. It’s a way of showing without having to tell. Through whip-pans, rapid editing, the atmospheric score by Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke, and the intentional use of split-focus diopter in the still-frame image above, Suspiria sustains its efforts with a great deal of worth and preconceived composition. Do I know what it all meant? Absolutely not; this story requires extremely deep discourse and study. But like the 2014 Russian epic Hard to Be a God, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is a picture that leaves an abhorrent aftertaste, and it’s an experience that manipulates its audience to the tune of its own depraved, sinister dance. This is filmmaking of the highest order.
“Illusion is their craft.”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5