Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★

"Ahh, Lacan!"

One of the most challenging reviews I have ever had to write, Luca Guadagnino's 2018 reboot of 'Suspiria' is an eminently frustrating film. It is frustrating because it has so very much to say, but it vacillates violently between doing so in an effective fashion and doing so in an insulting fashion. Much like the film's bold editing, some scenes feel like a masterstroke of craft, while others are entirely redundant or saturated with a false sense of pseudointellectual self-satisfaction.

A key aspect of Argento's 1977 original that I found so gangster was the commitment to replacing an apparent lack of 'scripted' substance with an inundation of visual substance. From the very beginning of Guadagnino's adaptation, it is clear he has opted for the precise opposite approach. That's not to say that the cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom doesn't look incredible. It does however omit any colour (other than red... Eventually) or character aside from that of post-war brutalist architecture. Moreover, the iconic neon lighting of the original is abstented entirely for a film stuck in a permanent dusk. Goblin's tremendous and invasive score of 1977 is replaced by a soft and sparsely-used Thom Yorke affair. You get the picture. While this succeeds in creating the coldness that was ostensibly intended, it is a gamble on the ability of the filmmakers to communicate compelling ideas through plot and dialogue emphatically enough to compensate. The problem with this is the ambition in the breadth of chosen ideas is not matched in depth here.

I don't want to drone on for paragraphs about why not everything translated well enough in my view so I will keep it short. Starting with things I loved to soften the blow: There are some really cool ideas wrapped up in the film's body horror that land excrutiatingly well. I've never hated looking at human beings on screen more than in these expertly dispatched sequences of cruel bodily harm. At times it was too grotesque to even train my eyes on the screen. Yet, the film explicitly references Jacques Lacan, whose "mirror stage" theory (seriously abridged) argues that we spend our whole lives desiring a unified conscious after we develop an understanding of how our image in the mirror is only our physical self, which is distinct from our mental identity. If this was the case, then Olga's revolting, brutalised body - that is in sharp opposition to our ideal of ourselves - in fact remains perfect (at least to the witches' eyes). This is because Olga is rendered into such a state by Susie (played by Dakota Johnston) as she knowingly submits her own body and mind to the schemes of the dance academy coven. That is a terrifying idea drawing out the expendability of female bodies when women don't stand together, imparted with barbaric visual force. The bloody climax is another example of when Suspiria is at its best, as the most absurd corporeal destruction is (rightfully, the film suggests) cast as merciful and natural.

Then, there is the entire first act which ploddingly covers what could have been achieved satisfactorily in only 10 minutes. There is the completely unneccesary six act structure that could really be condensed to three. There is the incredibly on-the-nose placement of the Berlin wall and the intermittent reminders every so often that we are in an era subject to terrorism and latent fascism in the ruins of WWII. Okay, we get it, you are responding to the resurgence of fascism at current. What's missing is a cogent thesis on how to combat or defeat this. This is where the script's treatment of the witch coven is bafflingly unclear. Are they intended to demonstrate how resistance to fascism can be equally depraved? Yeah sure, occult rituals are pretty fucked up but real life anti-fascists don't do that. There is the strange idea that family and heritage matter but also... don't? There is the insane epilogue where Susie - an American outsider in Berlin - seemingly absolves a German man of his selfish decision to dissuade his Jewish wife from fleeing Germany during the prolonged rise of Nazism. We - along with the man himself - discover his arrogance led to her undignified death in a concentration camp, only for Susie to erase his memory in order to destroy any grappling with guilt. Jesus Christ. Why? It just flies in the face of the well-earned fate that many of the witches receive for their collective hand-wringing minutes earlier. I could go on but it's honestly too ridiculous.

Suspiria (2018) succeeds as a horror... When it decides to allow itself. It does include some striking visuals and unique commentary. It succeeds at keeping out the male gaze... Until it doesn't for no apparent reason. Suspiria's muddled ideology and filmmaking directly precipitate my mixed opinion of it. Some moments, I couldn't have agreed more with the notions advanced and others I was utterly insulted. But it clearly wants me to react with either unadulterated admiration or a kind of hatred and I reacted with neither. By that metric, it failed to capture the magic of the original. It is okay to make a horror movie guys. You don't have to make an unhinged manifesto out of it. Bonus star for Tilda fucking Swinton playing three different characters.

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