Jake Rosenberg’s review published on Letterboxd:
There’s so much good going on here I don’t know where to begin. In regards to the original, it’s hardly a remake so much as a total reinvention; whereas the original was a cheesy slasher with colorful lighting, this is body horror meets political statement with a desaturated palette so as to overwhelm with its oppressive atmosphere. The cinematography is phenomenal, really feeling like a film that could’ve been made & released in the seventies with its grainy look, zooms, abstract angles, & frame rate changes (more on that later). The editing is tense & anxiety provoking, reminiscent of mother! in the best possible way. The production design is understated yet effective, making up for its lack of rich neon lighting with gothic interiors & reflective surfaces that distort reality, which fits the approach the film takes towards discombobulating the audience. And man is it scary; legit some of the most horrific sequences I’ve ever seen committed to film. There’s something about those dance sequences that’s so perfectly choreographed yet simultaneously just off. The sound design aids in this through focusing on the whooshes of the air, the breaths the dancers exhale, & the contact their bodies make with the ground, visually showing us something perfectly in sync but giving us audio that suggests the very opposite. Thom Yorke can easily contest his fellow bandmate Johnny Greenwood for the year’s best score with a soundtrack that’s versatile, ranging from surreal motifs a la Lynch to classic rock tracks to lovely piano symphonies; all of which immensely aid in the mood/tone of the respective scenes.
This is my first Luca Guadagnino film & I can’t wait to see more. One of his talents I’m most drawn to is his ability as an actor’s director; he knows exactly what he’s going for in terms of the character & as such knows exactly how to utilize the thespian at his disposal. Subsequently, Dakota Johnson works really well in her role here; I won’t say her performance is great, but she fits her character perfectly. Mia Goth is appealing to watch too. That said, this movie belongs to Tilda Swinton, who encompasses an entire range of emotions & circumstances that entirely transcends three dimensions (you’ll know when you see it) all to perfection. On an unrelated note, one detail I adored about this film was that despite not technically being a foreign language film, characters actually spoke German. It always bugs me in other mainstream movies to see scenes set in foreign countries & hear the actors speak English with accents, so this was a highly refreshing change of pace.
Thematically, I’d describe this film as rich. Maybe a little too wealthy. There’s a fascinating exploration of the setting this takes places in, which really directs the plot’s proceedings more than serve as a backdrop to it. The idea of national guilt, social progress transcending politics, art as a vehicle for said social betterment, the lines between conservatism & liberalism being blurred by historic tragedy, the emerging femininity of the era, & the duality of political stratification all play important roles in the story of this dance horror film, sometimes battling for dominance & getting muddled. If anything, Suspiria (2018) isn’t unlike another film released earlier that year, Sorry to Bother You, which was similarly overstuffed, surreal, unsettling, & socially conscious. There’s a lot to unpack, such that it will provide hours of analysis for the better, but it can be highly uneven, overlong, obvious, & occasionally unfulfilling. It’s certainly messy.
What really tanks this though is its climax. It actually starts off incredibly, but in an effort to pay tribute to its giallo roots, descends into total campy shlock. There’s underwhelming, there’s disappointing, & then there’s ruining your film with godawful choices like bad color filters, over the top violence, CGI gore, & terrible frame rate. I get what they’re going for, but it totally destroys the creepy mood, serious tone, & potent scares with something that belongs more in The Evil Dead than this artful deconstruction of the East/West blocs conflict, post Holocaust Germany, motherhood, repression, & the abuse of power.
But even in spite of its indulgent length, overstuffed narrative, & hard to keep track of characters, this film is an insane beast. It’s thought provoking, well made, horrific, smart, & original. There’s a lot to unpack here for a first impression, & I can’t wait to dive into the explanations & opinions on this; it will certainly grow on me. In time, it will one day be spoken in the same breath as films like The Thing, The Fly, & The Departed.
Side note: I’ve technically watched this film before, but originally saw it torrented with friends with no subtitles (why? Ask spencertyephoto). Watching it with subtitles is (obviously) the way to go, as you actually understand the film organically in a way that outside analyses simply can’t; furthermore, some of the dialogue here is actually really great, with some cool quips & lascivious lines here & there. PSA!