Suspiria ★★★

Hooptober Se7en: Love in the Time of Sequelitis
Countries: United States, Germany, Italy
Decade: 2010s
Body horror films

Ever since taking several of my best friends on an ill-fated excursion to see Boyhood in high school, I’ve cherished my tendency to find rapture where certain others see only tedium. So it brings me no joy to say that Suspiria put the pointe shoe on the other foot, so to speak. The six-act structure has been called frivolous, and it is, but I’m grateful for it, because it allows me to isolate the point where the film finally caught my interest. (It was Act Five.) For the first hundred minutes or so—the entire length of Argento’s film—I watched Suspiria at a frustrated remove, appreciating the occasional gruesome image or evocative line, but never succumbing to the atmosphere that serves as the film’s foundation. Even the much-lauded cinematography felt oddly sterile to me, and I couldn’t reconcile the 70s throwback zooms and POV shots with the modern grandiosity of the rest of the camerawork.

Things did pick up at the climactic dance scene. Guadagnino comes off as a one-trick pony as far as horror’s concerned, and that trick is cross-cutting between serene elegance and extreme brutality (it’s used in at least four major sequences). But “Volk” is the one time it works. It’s partly thanks to Mia Goth channeling the best qualities of the classic giallo protagonists, but what sticks the landing is the dance itself—I’m no expert in the field, so I can’t speak to the actual quality of the piece, but when it comes to depictions of “serene elegance”, I’ll take elaborate choreography over Parajanov-lite visual metaphor any day. The finale doesn’t reach the same heights, no thanks to the painfully obvious CGI blood throughout, but I can at least appreciate how it reimagines/reclaims the ending of the original. (I actually couldn’t see myself comprehending it without the context of “you’re going to meet Death now”.) It was a mistake to confine the whole sequence to such a relatively small space, though. Realism and architectural consistency are already out the window; might as well go big with it while you can.

I spent most of Suspiria dreading the prospect of being a dissenting voice on it, and that’s mostly been averted. I will always, God willing, prefer liking movies to disliking them, and at the end of the day, I do like this movie. But I wish I could see what certain other people see in this. The 5-star reviews describe a feeling of complete engrossment and wonder, something that sticks in the mind for days on end. When I think back on Suspiria, what comes to mind isn’t the dancing or the political intrigue or the hexen; all I can conjure is a series of gray hallways.

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