Suspiria review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
What a marvelous age to live in where horror classics can have a new life with a throwback feel, true to its source. Not long after the faithful sequel of David Gordon Green’s Halloween, along comes Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remains just as faithful in its own artistic, twisted, and confounding means of horror akin to Dario Argento’s original film. A lesser film would compromise and pull back to make the film faster, simpler, and dial back the gore. If anything, Guadagnino only ramps up the film’s awkwardness that dares to be nothing short of an unsettling and grotesque experience, so beautifully fulfilling for it bloody avant-garde nature.
The story takes place in 1977 Berlin, where a dance academy for girls acts secretly as a coven of witches. From the outside and from their dance floors, they appear to be just another strict dance school, led by the focused and shrill Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). But beneath their halls, hidden behind mirrored rooms and dark dungeons, is a sinister motive the remains ever secluded and shrouded in darkness and terror. Few girls realize what they’ve gotten themselves into until it’s too late. One girl manages to escape and reveal her findings to Dr. Jozef Klemperer (played by Tilda Swinton in heaps of old-man makeup), a doctor who takes a great interest in the girl’s detailed diary of the witches and their order. Another won’t be so lucky to escape, becoming trapped inside the academy and having her body violently contorted into a mess of broken bones and twisted muscles.
The latest to join the academy is Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a red-headed American that strives to be the best and rejects her Mennonite family from Ohio. Blanc looks upon her with great promise, hoping she’ll make the perfect witch with her dedication to dance, eager to improve her form and jumps. And with her violent dance comes a weaving of spells, seemingly unknown by Susie of what she is doing. She seems so focused on the dance she has no idea that the energy coursing through her body is fulfilling a dark prophecy and keeping the halls quiet from those seeking to escape and expose. If the dances don’t kill you, the vicious spells and basement of horrors will.
Guadagnino’s Suspiria is the ultimate fever dream of a nightmare. The editing is mostly chaotic, creating a sense of panic even in scenes where there doesn’t seem to be much of it. There’s a swirling of plotlines surrounding the witch academy, including the dark backstory of Susie’s family, the RAF terrorist situations pulsating out literally out the school windows, and Klemperer’s tragic past that has driven him to save young girls from terrible fates. Dialogue dips between subtle remarks of the dance to crudely bold statements about having sex with animals. And the violence goes the extra mile of gore, resulting in one of the trippiest, bloodiest, most vomit-inducing climaxes of any film you’ll see in 2018, guaranteed.
While Suspiria is the type of horror I dig immensely, for how rarely something so psychological and putrid as this comes along, I feel the need to tack on a footnote that is by no means everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you don’t like your tea with blood, guts and decaying bodies. It’s very slow-moving, stunningly silent in its staging, and overblown with the red when the witch ritual is abounding. But if all that sounds like tasty ingredients for a good horror, Suspiria is a real treat with fantastic performances, beautiful staging, and an uneasy vibe throughout, perfect the type of horror that digs deep and pierces the soul.