I cannot even begin to fathom what the fuck I just watched. Maybe it was because I took an all-nighter and the drowsiness was starting to take effect on my conscious mind. It’s not a simple task to comprehend all the uncanny, otherworldly imagery you’ve glimpsed on the big screen when your eyelids start to flicker and your vision blurs.
How did Luca Guadagnino go from directing Call me by your Name, to something as abstract and as disturbing as THIS? It’s the equivalent of having Adam Sandler go from all the crappy Happy Madison films to a violent torture porn. Granted, Guadagnino is still incredibly early in his game – having only directed two standout films prior to this – but it’s relatively perplexing how he was able to meticulously craft the complex, thematically dense, and terrifying reimagining of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. If anything, I’m incredibly impressed; this director is definitely going on my radar from here on out.
Just a warning though: this film is extremely graphic. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve been typing this a lot lately. I swear I don’t actively seek out excruciatingly violent movies… they just come to me (yes, I’m aware that I’m sounding a lot like Harry Potter now). There are scenes in this film that will leave you stunned in your seats or even feel the sudden urge to exit to the nearest bathroom and throw up into the toilet basin. This film makes the original Suspiria look like a cakewalk. That flick is akin to an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine compared to this. The first death scene pretty much puts this on full display in all its bloody, spinal and bodily fluids glory. The 2018 remake revels in body horror and ritualistic sacrifices, putting them at the forefront of its marketing campaign.
Suspiria tells the story of a young woman, Suzie, who decides on enrolling in a ballet school in Berlin after being distraught by the condition of her terminally ill mother. She is encountered by Madame Blanc, the head teacher at the academy, who decides to take her under her wing. However, not is all right with the academy, or even the dancers in fact. For one, vicious nightmares and visions start assaulting Suzie on a daily basis, invading her sanity. She often wakes up, screaming and covered in sweat from these traumatic, subconscious ventures. There are also rumors of a missing student, Patricia Hingle, who kickstarts the film’s mystery by explaining to Josef Klemperer, her psychiatrist, that witches are coming to take her back into their coven (that coven being the academy). While Suzie continues her dance lessons at the school, Josef decides to delve deeper into uncovering the mystery being Patricia’s statement.
The acting in this film is crazy… in a good way, however. Tilda Swinton basically portrays not one, not two, but three different characters throughout the film. And one of them is a guy! Yes, believe it or not, Swinton plays the role of Josef Klemperer alongside Madame Blanc and another character whose identity I shall not spoil for fear of spoilers. And she is fantastic in all three. Sure, Josef’s character will take some time getting used to, considering that it’s a cross-dressing role and his German accent is as thick as a cheese roll, but you can notice moments of pure brilliance through her acting. You can almost taste the guilt and sorrow felt by him as a result of his backstory. Also, props to Mia Goth as Sara. There’s an I Saw the Devil esque injury scene, where she ends up shrieking in such agony that you could almost swear, she got wounded on set.
From a purely visual standpoint, this film easily ranks among the best looking this year. Suzie’s nightmares are given extra care and attention towards, the gruesome, peculiar and lurid visuals all working in tandem to instill fear into the minds of the audience. There’s a lot of imagery you can use to compare this with the static-infused tapes from The Ring. Try to watch any of them without getting chills running up your spine. Another thing to note is that the cinematography is dead drop gorgeous, with various shots of the streets of Berlin lined with snow and the open-ended countrysides of Germany conjuring up this soothing, almost therapeutic imagery for film buffs to bask in. Its pure perfection; you could add any of these shots to that Magneto meme that’s been surfacing the internet for these couple of days.
On the negative side of things however, the characterization here is almost non-existent. Apart from Suzie and Josef, none of the other roles in the film expand beyond their basic characteristics. The rest of the coven is just there (sort of), the other students act mostly as backdrops and everyone else is purely an extra. Josef’s character arc showcases him coming to terms with the sudden disappearance of his dear wife, acting as a significant component of the film’s enriched exploration of loss. Suzie’s character exists as the audience surrogate, being used to let the viewers in on the inner workings of the dance academy as well as setting up the unnerving and enigmatic atmosphere of the film through her nightmarish dream sequences. However, there’s also a twist set up for her which I found to be predictable and nonsensical. It just doesn’t make much sense given her character and I could see it coming a mile away from the moment she started dancing. Also, I honestly wanted to see more of Chloe Moretz as Patricia. Her presence in the film amounts to what could safely be considered a glorified cameo. Which is a shame; she’s a fantastic actress.
The film also lacks the red color grading that made the original a cult classic. The redness there was used to symbolize constant dread and villainy within the environment and heightens the ominous feel that Dario Argento was intentionally aiming for. The 2018 rendition of this went for a more colourless look. Yeah, this film is devoid almost entirely of color and in many ways, it does work to its full advantage. The snowy, urban cityscape of early 1900s Berlin is more profound because of this and the more realistic color palates center the film in a more grounded environment – that of our own. Sure, it maintains a subtler feel, but it lacks the effectiveness that the garish redness of the original was able to achieve. Having gruesome death scenes occur in dark, edgy scarlet lighting only seeks to increase the brutality. That’s why the ending scene in the 2018 version is going to be remembered for some time, though sadly it’s the only instance where red is utilized heavily in the background.
All in all, it’s a very difficult flick to recommend to the common audience. It’s way too weird, abstract, open-ended and unique that people without knowledge of these kinds of works beforehand would honestly find themselves grasping at how to even make sense of it all. I definitely did, though then again, I watched it while I was still recovering from the effects of not sleeping at all the night before.
Watching Suspiria is like witnessing a theatrical production unravel before your very eyes. To put it in simple terms, it’s basically a play in the form of a movie. Actors and actresses here perform as if they’re meant to personify a certain object or being, and this is made much clearer in the finale, which is where the unsettling, abstract nature of the film makes itself known. This is a very horrifying, fucked up and speculative movie that isn’t afraid to go into some dark, dreadful places for the purpose of telling a story about loss, regret, and abusiveness. Watch this film if you want something different. Watch it if you’re sick of generic, by the numbers horror films that are being churned out like jackrabbits. Watch this film if you love the movie Hereditary (both flicks have similar aspects in terms of themes, plot, and characterization). And check this out if you like theatre, especially stuff involving witches and such. There’s a lot to interpret here, so don’t fret if you or your mates (or even your soulmate for that matter) come up with different conclusions.
Final verdict: 8/10