F’s review published on Letterboxd:
I pretty much loved it, though my friend/girlfriend sure didn’t! This is a grotesque, grandiose 2.5-hour mess, that’s happy to let its conclusions lie unassumedly still within the dense, sprawling bounds of its world. An F-minus Cinemascore is indeed expected, though the opening weekend horror fanbase might push it up to D (then again, do average horror fans like obtuse, lengthy essays on post-war guilt, the creeping rise of fascism and the emotional burdens of women? Or just all the blood?)
It certainly poses as a more artsy, intellectual horror-drama, but once it decides to turn on the fireworks, holy shit is that a lot of blood (a LOT of blood), and it’s basically fully fledged body horror, a lot more viscerally intense than the more ‘fun’ original. Luca smartly intertwines the writhing, studied mannerisms of the dancing with brittle, wet sounds of crunching bone and tearing flesh (plus a nightmarish creature straight out of J-horror), and doubles down on special effects and prosthetics in a sublime finale. This movie is overstuffed with images and ideas which aren't always coherent or fully understandable, but the moment-to-moment slow grind of the story is unpredictable in the best way possible. Guadagnino uses his superb control of feeling to first cast a dull blanket of guilt and forgotten violence over the film's emotions, before they erupt in spectacularly over-the-top form. It operates on such a unique level that I was, frankly, bewitched.
-Contains some of my favourite sequences of the year, including the dances, some nightmare montages, and an emotional climax with a terrific cameo appearance.
-The 1977 political 'subtext' (it's all there on-screen anyway) isn't always married to the emotional undercurrent, unfortunately, and can come across as forced even when you get it conceptually
-It's very, slyly funny. Contrasting this baroque gore-fest are scenes of the teachers bickering in domestic settings, blood being cleaned up, etc. Or sometimes the bodily torture gets to the point where it stops being horrifying and starts being hilarious
-I love some of the weird camera choices in this, like slowmo, colour correction, zooms within the frame. The editing must have been a behemoth to handle, given the amount a scene is juggling at any one time.
-The first couple scenes put me off a bit, and were difficult to understand. Like CMBYN, I was distanced before I slowly became fully immersed in the dream-state of the movie. I can understand people not immersed might just hate it.
-Also like CMBYN, it features songs I love that are probably the least essential part of the movie. 'Suspirium' is a moody banger, and some welcome levity against a cavalcade of grim and gross happenings, but stands pretty separate from the rest