Suspiria 2018

When The Rite of Spring premiered in 1911, Parisians cat-called, protested and even brawled in the audience. It’s hard to think of something as genteel as the ballet eliciting such reactions today. But here we are with Suspiria 2018, the balletic ballet horror film which has bifurcated gore-hounds. Luckily,  nobody’s come to blows.

Oscar Wilde often warned against the permanence of truth claims in art, which has been borne out when you see how the likes of jazz and impressionist paintings are received today compared with their debuts: casual indifference. They’ve faded into bourgeoisie acceptance.

While its detractors feebly point out that its cinematography is out of date and its story-line, quaint, the original Suspiria is still held in very high regard (not the least of which by us here. It’s in our Top 10 Horror Films of all Time). So, when Luca Guadagnino came along with the brass balls to remake the beloved Argento masterstroke, the pre-reception to the announcement foretold a Stravinsky-type blowback.

And so it goes. You’re damned if you do, in these circles.

But IF you do, do it Guadagnino style and go for broke. Unlike David Gordon Green’s beat-for-beat retread of Halloween, which, despite getting the Carpenter imprimatur remained “stuck in the mud” as Conor McGregor might say of his opponents, Suspiria 2018 is VERY DIFFERENT from its predecessor. And hell, that’s half the battle right there. Halloween 2018 is “everything to all people,” but ultimately signifying nothing. And for all its many faults, Suspiria is a force to be reckoned with, and deserves treatment as an independent entity.

Gone is the simple witch story, as well as the luscious pinks, reds, and blues you get from a Dario vision (instead, the film’s starkly bi-chromatic…with a palette not unlike The Witch, speaking of covens). Gone is Suzy Bannion’s teen innocence. In its place, oodles of backstory, gobs of historical context, lots of internecine witch squabbling, and most noticeable, dancing aplenty. The role of the psychiatrist is amped up, and like its forebear, there is spectacular (and hugely memorable) violence.

Dakota Johnson is gorgeous, game, and physical. And Tilda Swinton outstanding. Still, there are bits of howler dialogue where you half-expect Dieter from Sprockets to pas de chat across your screen. The Red Army Faction / Baader-Meinhof Gang + Nazi subplot is confusing, and tethers the film glumly to history (compared with Argento’s uniquely otherworldly sense of place, inspired by Snow White). And if it’s one thing both detractors and boosters will concede, this one’s criminally overlong.

Still, there is just too much funky weirdness and atmosphere to dismiss it. Time will tell how Suspiria will be remembered as we sit back, enjoy, and digest.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our discussion of the new Suspiria film on the
Really Awful Movies Podcast!]

Suspiria

Every scene in Suspiria is like a gorgeous Instagram post. The beauty more than compensates for the self-indulgence.

We find master strokes from Dario Argento, and a nano-thin plot that is an excuse to throw sumptuous visuals* at the viewer.

The opening salvo is 15 minutes of a rain nightmare, a dream deluge that seems lifted straight out of Kafka’s The Castle. It’s one of the great openings (perhaps the greatest) of any horror film. Full stop.

Young ballerina Suzy (Jessica Harper) hails a cab in a storm. The driver doesn’t understand her perfectly capable German pronunciation until she hands over the address, then the back of his head almost disappears into the cascading rain on the dash as the viewer is driven around and around. It’s as disorienting as Suzy is disoriented. (Part of this dreamlike quality can no doubt be attributed to the actors’ dialogue and reactions, as some members of the international cast both could not understand one another, as well as their English lines).

The cabbie eventually drops her off at a very Gothic dance academy in Bavaria. That’s where a figure shrouded in darkness has recently murdered one of her classmates, gutting the victim and then bungee-ing her through the structure’s sun roof. Faculty and staff are reluctant to discuss the matter, and it’s up to Suzy, hero’s journey-style, to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The flick is a dark nightmare, still in a giallo style that Argento favored at the time, and inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, among others.

Suspiria is Fellini-esque in its weirdness the ambling blind musician and his dog; Pavlo, the buck-toothed Romanian servant; the stomach-churning maggots; the doctor who prescribes wine after Suzy’s fainting spell…and they’re all as integral to the finished product as the unsettling visual language.

The first (and best) of Argento’s so-called Three Mothers trilogy (which includes the beguiling Inferno and also The Mother of Tears), Suspiria is as arresting a visual experience as you’ll ever see in horror, but also as memorably an auditory one. The rock band Goblin’s theme is so identifiably creepy you can’t fault Argento for its overuse. There’s a case to be made (and we made it in an episode of the Really Awful Movies Podcast) that it’s one of the Top 5 Horror  Movie Themes of all time.

There are nods to Snow White, as well as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but Suspiria is its own entity, demanding multiple viewings. It’s a wonderful gateway drug to experience the surreal world of Italian horror.

****1/2 (out of 5)

(*Editor’s note: The 2018 remake doesn’t have the same color palette, but with a Thom Yorke score and comparable intensity, it shouldn’t disappoint. But we all know how these remakes usually turn out).