Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★

I honestly don’t know what to think about this film. I think if I leave it a bit longer, I might assemble in my head a version of the film I could love. That dance-torture scene, where a girl is twisted beyond recognition, is gloriously nasty; the climactic scene where Mother Suspiriorum identifies herself and wreaks havoc is wonderfully bloody, with the movie finally going as saturated and colourful as Argento’s original. That stuff appeals to the part of me that adores The Neon Demon, while the sprawling narrative that culminates in a girl not becoming a victim of an evil cult but instead making herself an object of worship tickles the part of my brain that goes into raptures over Midsommar. I want this to be a demented, all-out chaos of a movie where dancers’ bodies are weapons and women giggle at impotent policemen who can’t hope to contain their power.

But, hmm, that version of the film isn’t the version Luca Guadagnino actually made, is it? The version that exists is too long, too washed out, and too desperate to mean something that I kind of feel like it didn’t actually say anything? Moving the action to Berlin, sitting right on the Berlin Wall, with an added subplot about a psychiatrist who’ll witness but not understand the ritual, just as he witnessed the loss of his own wife to the Nazis, leaves a weirdly sour taste in my mouth. How does that stuff actually fit with the rest of it? Are the witches an analogue for the Nazis? And if so, then... what? The Tanzgruppe is lauded at one point for its support of women, for standing against what the Nazis wanted from German women, so I feel like that doesn’t track. What does Susie’s Mennonite background signify? Her mother’s cruel punishments make her seem like an emblem of the past that deserves to be rejected, but Susie embracing the witches, with their own cruelties, is hardly a triumph. 

I thought I’d hate this for being a soulless cover version of the original. I didn’t, it isn’t. But I just feel kind of confused by it. I enjoyed some parts, and not others. Thom Yorke’s score is the worst thing I’ve ever heard (he should be arrested for that lyric about dancing behind the wall), Dakota Johnson’s hair is terrible, and the whole bizarre pantomime about Tilda Swinton’s multiple roles is baffling, but when this goes full horror, it soars. 

So my main reaction, I think, is a kind of evil glee at how this trend for artsy, big budget horror has seen audiences and critics that turned up their noses at Hostel or Paranormal Activity embracing films that are total horror trash at heart (cf Hereditary, In Fabric, The Witch). I’ve gone from feeling defensive - “elevated horror” is a nonsense, horror has always engaged with big ideas and serious themes!! - to feeling giggly and mischievous. Yeah, give me more literal demons dressed up in heartstopping cinematography, if it means everyone has to pay attention to my beloved genre. Put more haunted trinkets in the arthouse. Dance, dance with the devil, and let’s all stroke our chins while the viscera explodes all over the walls. I fucking love horror movies.