Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
I saw this at Leeds International Film Festival 2018.
I get a bit aggressive in this review towards certain audiences. I wrote this yesterday in a passionate fury and feel it would be disingenuous to rewrite it. Much love to those who the film really works for.
Suspiria is a film of arthouse dog whistles, signalling itself as deep and artsy through a variety of preconceived traps. This is a horror film for people who don't like horror films, people who think The Exorcist and stuff with subtitles are the only horror films that can have depth. Scene after scene are filled with pretentious stylings, with the slow pace, the extended character development, the historical context, the onscreen chapter titles, the so-obvious matriarchal themes slathered everywhere so we can never forget this isn't just a horror film. The film is too enamoured with the original Suspiria, trying to avoid any comparisons by replacing the all style, no substance approach of Argento with less style and faux substance. It's not that the substance adds up to nothing though, because it truly has potential, the film just leaves its ideas half-baked because it wants to be a horror film too and drops things whenever some scares are needed.
German history is not unknown to me, I've studied the past two hundred years of German history in depth (both in education and in my spare time). So to see a film use the German Autumn as a backdrop seems fascinating. Unfortunately it's all used terribly. It's just references, with radio broadcasts and dialogue making it seem like it's going to lead somewhere. The film fails to build historical context, even as it constantly nods to the Berlin Wall, Nazism, and the RAF. It's all surface level nonsense. I've reviewed plenty of Fassbinder films, so I know how films can tackle these issues well, but the vast majority of Suspiria mentions them for no good reason. The conclusion of all these political namedrops is that Germany needs to feel guilt and shame, which is a waste of over two hours of a film alluding to something more profound. Watch Germany in Autumn and get back to me.
So I hated Suspiria for a good amount at the start. It was just inane, drawn-out bullshit, shallowly alluding to complex politics so certain filmgoers will fellate it. Then the horror kicked in. The dream sequences, the torturous physical suffering, all these moments are truly terrifying, drawn out slowly and intermingled with painless sequences you can't miss. Never have I been so scared in a cinema. These horrific moments, of body horror mixed in with supernatural tension, are the stuff of nightmares. Factor in the grinding down of identity, sometimes sudden but oftentimes protracted, and you have a film which scrambles your brain with shock and terror until it feels like you've shat out half of your internal organs. The finale is the most intense, awesome, and ludicrous set piece of the year, a scene writhing in guts and feminine distortion. It's just a shame the film has an epilogue which kills all the momentum and adds nothing.
Each scene in Suspiria is either a five star masterclass or two star mess. When it goes for horror, it is unbelievably effective. When it tries to be something else, it leaves much to be desired even though the tone is is very smug. Directors like Wes Craven, George A. Romero, and Tobe Hooper have made plenty of schlock more meaningful than Guadagnino's try-hard Suspiria, but those directors make films that don't pretend to be more than they are. Suspiria is a film with many perfect sections, but there's so much more crap that it's ultimately disappointing.