Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★★½

The German Autumn, some of the defining several months of Cold War Europe, occurred by no small coincidence during the initial release of Dario Argento’s stylish slash-terpiece, the original Suspiria. But the violence of the outside world was of no consequence or concern to Argento’s gory film world, wrapped up in the escapism and sensationalism of genre and formalism rather than sociopolitical subtexts and philosophical pedantry. It was either Jean-Luc Godard or Brian de Palma (or both) who once said in an interview “If you show the audience a gun, they wonder when you’re going to shoot it. If you show them a woman, when will you undress it?” This regressive approach to horror was of primary aesthetic concern amidst the Giallo conventions that Argento helped construct, define and deconstruct, culminating in his 1977 magnum opus.

In stark contrast now stands Luca Guadagnino’s remake to redactively set that story into its pertinent socio-political context, replacing the eye-popping color and lights of Argento’s fantasy dance academy with the overcast, graffitied Berlin of Rainier Werner Fassbinder and Christiane F.. Instead of the theme of innocence lost in sexual maturity, the splintered, schizophrenic collapse and rebirth of post-WWII German culture looms as a monolith as vast as the Berlin Wall itself, hulking over this coven of dancing witches and providing a much different context to the characters and settings Susie Bannion (here played by Dakota Johnson) encounters. On one hand, there was an entire generation that still hadn’t come to terms with being complicit in the greatest human atrocity in modern times, and on the other there was the disaffected youth witnessing the leaders of the Western world, arbiters of so-called justice hypocritically perpetrating injustice after Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

There is definitely a dialogue between this bygone era of political tumult and the West’s current fascination with fascism. Paramount to this dialogue is the film’s exploration of power structures, namely that in the past many forms of empowerment have relied on the subjugation and suffering of an other. As we come to find, even the self-sustained matriarchy of the dance academy feeds off of the talents and vigor of its students to sustain the old ways of its matrons. The corruptive nature of power can atrophy even the noblest of ideals (not saying Satanic witch cults are noble, but bear with me), and so many social movements are defined by the violence from their inception to their upheaval.

Who could have foreseen Trump and Bolsanaro? The Baader-Meinhof group called out those men’s predecessors with bullets and bombs before even they were consumed by the very violence they perpetrated. Susie asks “Why does everyone assume that the worst is already over with?”, and I have no doubt we have yet to see the worst the modern world has to offer. But the revolutionary act of questioning our power structures while accepting our role in their creation is the best way to make *heads explode* if we are to expect any progressive improvement in our dystopian malaise.

With all that being said, I much prefer the original. Guadagnino’s take is more food for thought, there are some wonderful dance sequences, body horror shots, and the climax is about as “Satanic witch cult” as you could ever ask for, but about 70% of the movie is really drab looking and borderline plodding. I get that it’s a “dark” movie with “dark” subject matter, but I was surprised to see the director ditch his summery eye for color for the perpetually rainy pall and atmosphere. As for Johnson, it’s just straight up bizarre hearing the same actress who said, “It’s boobs in boob land” earlier this year in Fifty Shades Freed spar with Tilda m-er f-ing Swinton about the abstract theoretical underpinnings of contemporary dance. Swinton herself is great as Madame Blanc, but I’m skeptical of the decision to have her cosplay as the old dude from Argento’s Inferno. It’s frustrating and distracting most of the time. Finally, Thom Yorke’s soundtrack doesn’t hold a candle to the frenetic magic of Goblin. Still, even with its shortcomings, Suspiria manages to be one of the best movies of the year in terms of thematic richness and basic craft, and I’m definite that it will be even more rewarding upon rewatch.

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