Suspiria ★★★★

The experience of watching Luca's SUSPIRIA was like surfing a torrential downpour of ideas, emotions, mysteries, and delusions, something that definitely clawed its way into my brain and gut and left me puzzling over its ominous, unholy dimensions. It is light years ahead of Dario's flashy, soulless original, whose pleasures only run skin-deep but lack a visceral, more internal bite. In Luca's high-end cerebral reimagining, the story is only marginally more coherent, but the biggest difference is there's actually an eerily crafted atmosphere that feels ever-present and satanically threatening. I never once felt that way with the original. Dario never cast a spell, never bewitched, never once seduced me with any feeling of genuine horror, whereas Luca, on the other hand, immersed me directly into a demon-plagued birth-canal, one that "literally" made me feel like a human pretzel twisted on the floor. 

Admittedly, this new blood-gushing nightmare feels a bit too constipated with characters, subplots, twists, and political parallelism to fully resonate, but it almost doesn't matter given how bold, exciting, and entrancing the filmmaking is. I'd even argue that Luca thematically channels Fassbinder more than Argento, first by the film's obvious political connection to the "German Autumn," and second in the way it intentionally distances and demands its viewers to come to the table and solve its malevolent mysteries. 

Like many of Fassbinder's films, the new SUSPIRIA is inflated with heavy subtext that requires some historical cliff notes to make sense of. Having recently finished Fassbinder's entire filmography, I felt a little more equipped to tackle SUSPIRIA's historical and political undercurrents that anxiously bubble and pulsate beneath.

A divided, terrorist-laden Berlin (which experienced massive civil unrest and violence during the Cold War) is clearly being contextualized within the film's use of the horror genre. Luca draws a parallel between radical left-wing terrorist groups —those who sought to capsize state fascists during 70s Germany —with a coven of witches who use occult dance as a weapon against patriarchal oppression. The subliminal suggestion that links terrorism to witchcraft is never bogged down by the facts of the era, but instead conveys a general mood of anxiety and inherited guilt. It's through this quagmire of terrorist violence and demon possession that the Markos Dance Academy becomes a corrective historical force for female empowerment. The witches of the Academy seem like leftists militants, only they've replaced bombings with curses, kidnappings with violent dances. On this point, screenwriter Dave Kajganich endows his witches with a sense of motherhood, portraying them as a tight-knit group of women who band together through dance to fight traitors and oppressive forces. The purpose of the Academy, he says, is to make "procedural observations about how this particular group of women might be able to cultivate private sources of power and figure out how they might wield the most influence in this politically turbulent time."

Born from a harrowing postwar landscape, SUSPIRIA makes fascinating use out of the political upheaval of 70s Germany, but where the film truly explodes with visceral impact is through its choreographed dance sequences. These moments literally took my breath away. I mean, my gaaawd! So much rhythm and kinetic energy. Brewed from a cacophony of intricate geometric patterns and pagan iconography, these moments truly do bewitch and stupefy. 

Everything important in the story is told through dance. Dance is a weapon. Dance is resistance. Dance is salvation and character development. Dance is a mesmerizing tool of transformative black mass. Dance is an act of female representation —the act of breaking the patriarchal spell of the times. Women initially clad in blood-red rope convey a sense of being bound or tied up, but later are completely naked and wildly free of their bindings. It might be sexual in nature, but there's nothing sexy about it, which is also why it's so dangerous. Luca uses dance as a demonic spectacle for female awakening, a symbol for summoning womanly power in an age of male-dominated skepticism. In fact, the story will go as far to strip Man entirely naked, that same Man who chalks up female expression of witches and rituals as paranoid delusions, and will use Man’s nakedness to witness the violence and trauma heaped upon Woman throughout the ages. This performative ritual is electrifying, behaving like a ferocious archetype of the polar sexes. Pay attention to when these witches are dancing. Crucial information is being given. It is much better to viscerally feel these moments than to explain them. 

If I had one gripe about the film, it would be that there wasn't enough dancing. Much of the film felt unnecessarily drawn out, with too many characters and cumbersome subplots that hindered rather than aided the story along. I might feel differently about this after a second viewing, but my initial reaction is that the story had too many discursive shifts in focus, which kept stepping on the film's rhythm to truly build tension. Had there been more time for dancing, rehearsing, with less expository backstory, this film could have been a bonafide masterpiece. That said, Luca's SUSPIRIA is still a stunningly-crafted experience that powerfully reimagines Dario's heavily-visual work as a thematically-rich meditation on grief and feminine liberation. It is by moons the superior of the two, a slow-burn mystery that casts a pretty thick spell and induces a lot of head-scratching fervor. 

I'm very excited to see it again and read other people's takes on it, as it will easily be the most controversial film of the year.

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