By Jack Dignan
To describe Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, Suspiria, as being a slight turnaround from his previous directorial effort, Call Me By Your Name, is a bit of an understatement. Guadagnino has followed up a tender, poetic love story that captured the hearts of everyone who saw it last year with a grizzly, grotesque horror remake fuelled by witchcraft and the supernatural. Yet, strangely enough, the two films feel somewhat linked. They’re both tales of love (albeit, with a little more post-war social commentary in the latter). Yep, it’s a hard concept to wrap your head around. In fact, the only other filmmaker in existence who could’ve pulled this off (and already has!) was none other than the late great Stanley Kubrick.
Suspiria is the closest we’re ever going to come to a modern day equivalent of The Shining. Both serve as allegorical reimagining’s of their source material, capable of capturing what made the original so great while twisting it into a surreal and terrifying rendition of their own. And best of all, both directors released their films shortly after a period romance. This film will no-doubt polarize audiences of today, especially as it reels its way into more mainstream cinemas, but years from now we’re going to hail it as one of the all time greats. Mark my words.
Even if you’ve seen Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, nothing can prepare you for the unfathomable bloodbath that is the 2018 remake. Their similarities cease to exist once you get past the basic concept of a young American dancer, Susie (Dakota Johnson, giving her most impressive and demanding performance yet), who travels to Berlin seeking to join a world-renowned dance studio run by a group of women who, as it turns out, may just happen to be witches. This new interpretation of the forty-year-old story is an artistic, thought provoking, horror masterpiece that’s as terrifying and gory as it is original and genius.
It’s a dark and sadistic nightmare set during the backdrop of a grim, bleak and unsettling time in history. David Kajganich’s screenplay tells this story over six chapters and an epilogue, most of which open with an extended sequence revolving around an elderly psychiatrist name Dr. Josef Klemperer, who’s credited as being played by first time actor Lutz Ebersdorf, but, despite the marketing team’s best efforts, is very clearly Tilda Swinton in disguise. His story is one of sadness and intrigue. You won’t get all the answers right away, and this may frustrate more impatient viewers, but his story eventually evolves into a thematically vital and deeply emotional one.
Rarely do we leave the terrifying isolation of the dance halls, but never did I want to. The longer Susie stays, and the more involved she gets with Swinton’s other character, Madam Blanc, the weirder this film gets. Its sinister secrets are slowly brought to the surface in the most provocative and perturbing of ways. Rarely do films make me feel physically ill, but there are moments in this that had me begging to look away, yet at the same time, I wouldn’t dare. You can’t. Every frame is soaked with life and sophistication. A single gaze from a character can tell you so much more than what appears to be on the surface, and missing just a single second could mean missing one of the many hints at what’s really going on.
Nothing gets spelled out for you, opening the film up to a larger discussion and prolonged questioning. There were moments where I was unsure of why were heading in the direction we were going, but I had faith in the filmmakers that they knew what was going on, and that they did. Suspiria’s third act features some of the most disturbing and horrific imagery ever put to film, and I honestly loved every second of it. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography takes on a life of its own. Between his twisted framing, the intoxicating editing, and a dazzling debut score from Radiohead member Thom Yorke, I simply have not had an experience as inviting and possessive as this one in a long time.
“Why are people so ready to assume the worst is over?” asks Johnson’s Susie at one point, and it’s this line that really hammers home what this film is going for. Suspiria is so much more than your run of the mill modern horror film. Heck, it’s also able to offer a far more complete experience than the original did. It’s a two and a half hour epic that delves deep into the veins of humanity and dares to question our sudden acceptance of change, our ease of overcoming guilt, and the fractured state of society. Can we thrive as a people when our leaders are corrupt? And if not, then who are?
I adored this film. Anything that gives us multiple Tilda Swinton’s is okay in my eyes, and oh boy, there are a lot of Tilda Swinton’s. If it were announced that she were secretly playing every character in this film, I honestly wouldn’t question it. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this movie and that’s probably for the best. There’s so much to unpack here, so much to think about, so much to debate over. You may not fall as deeply in love with this film as I did right away, but it’s one that’ll branch out and linger inside your mind for a very, very long time. Before long, you too will become infatuated with its gloomy secrets and atypical nature. Death to any other mother!
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