Suspiria ★★★★

A certain corpus-crippling scene may have put-me-off my potato pasty, but I’m glad I bucked up and pushed through even though bendy-wendy-body-horror makes my insides cringe. But alas, discomfort enlivens me, and it wasn’t a totally isolated viewing. My silly little silkworm, ‘Merlin’, nestled himself beside me and offered a comforting, padded paw.

Guadagnino’s reinterpretation of Suspiria is bizarre as it is beautiful. The beauty lies within artistry, connection, and dance, that, much like the finesse of a Witches’ furry ‘familiar,’ is both feline and fierce. The rapid-fire movements of bodies that seem to cut and claw through the air are exhilaratingly showcased by the dancers. They are simply poetry in motion.

Yet, all that seeming beauty was rigorously toyed with; it was picked at, probed, plucked away, and contorted with a callousness that left me slack jawed. All that was inherently beautiful on the surface, from dance as an art form in which flesh sings & sighs to ‘supposed sisterhood,’ is damned with festering disease. All that makes the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy is glazed with greed, lacquered by lust, and moulded with malice and acts of monstrosity. It is there that art incites pain, dance invokes doom, and beauty is betrayed. It is there where secrecy & sorcery is a threat that seeks to snuff out & suffocate, and devilry hangs like a torn tapestry over walls that seemingly wail and weep.

The Academy’s matrons, who on the surface were deemed a friendly circle of good-natured, jolly women, are quickly revealed to be rotten to the core. We are shown in gruelling, bone-crunching detail the cruelty they inflict on dissenters, and then we see how shockingly contented they are with what they’ve done. They find eudaemonia in evil and gleefully giggle in response to inflicting excruciating torture on those they were supposed to nurture and support. 

The matrons also haunt dreams and besiege the Tanz girls with nightmares. As a result, we viewers find ourselves indulging in a poisoned platter of quick-cut psychosis shots—fingernails dug into hardwood floors, faceless women scaling door jambs, swirling images of death and decay, and mini, macabre montages of maggot-infested corpses—-just utter morbidity and mayhem. Aesthetically, these shots are enough to send spasmodic shivers down spines. Yet, for those who like their cerebral laced with grotesquery, it’s a filling feast.

The film, in quiet moments & scenes devoid of dazzling blood-red, remains either chronically cream or carries the tired, near-lifeless energy of a faded daguerreotype in an abandoned mansion. Little do the dancers know the fruits of their energy revitalises a bespectacled, sister-of-Jabba-the-Hutt-looking, mucky, murky monstress down below.

Besides the grotesquery of many scenes, some are heart-warming to take in or just gorgeous to look at; I revel in their sweetness and depth. Of course, I must mention the camaraderie & loyalty depicted between the dancers, particularly that of Susie’s and Sara’s. There seems to be an intergenerational divide in that the ever-cackling matrons, though loyal to one another, are not bound by friendship but by duty in serving a higher power. Fear and fragility cloud their coven. For me, the one matron who slashed her throat over a dining table is endlessly fascinating. Her actions and detachment from the again, ever-giggling & cackling (they’re so happy?) coven show a deep sense of isolation. That isolation had in no way spread into the ranks of the dancers. They look out for one another, and there is a deep love, support, and respect there. Their cohesion & collaboration shines most beautifully in a sensorium of touch and taste. There is intuition and a tempest of intimacy that swirls within the space between bodies. Their final performance had the dancers moving artfully like one whole, with hip bones jutting out like shark fins, and an energy that sizzled against the trickling of bewitching music. The dancers cashed in pieces of themselves in a bid to blend in a flurry of red. Their roped outfits seared the air when movement was stark and clear-cut. Those very ropes flimsily flopped like arteries weaving together in more softer movements, creating that whole body—creating, demolishing, creating, and demolishing. Their dance was provocative. Spiritual. Bloodthirsty. It was a culmination of power, possession, survival, and sacrifice, and Guadagnino directed that sequence in such a way that allowed its horrifying, yet deeply sensual nature flow and fill every frame. Suspiria’s aggressive, stylistic hyperactivity renders it a movie that needs to be experienced through the body as much as through emotion or intellect.

The very nature of the Academy can be likened to a poisoned apple; I’m thinking the blood-red one plastered on ‘Twilight’ book covers—the extended hands are bloodless and cradle an apple that beats with life; in all its crispness, deliciousness, and sheen. You could say the apple is symbolic of the dancers, ever-giving and gifting the fruits of their energy (albeit, unknowingly) to a crooked crone, and the bloodless palms are symbolic of that very crone, the utterly decrepit Markos. A stretch? Absolutely. 

It’s odd to reference Twilight and compare a minor aspect with a far superior Suspiria, my sincerest apologies. Not that Twilight doesn’t offer its own gems. Memes galore, all excavated from the franchise with fang-like perception.

PS. Eid Mubarak to all those who celebrate! I hope this Eid brings you joy unlimited, and just a wonderful, prayer-filled, peace-filled, love-filled, happiness-filled & food-filled day for you and your loved ones 💓

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