Suspiria ★★½

Added to “2018, Ranked

My immediate reaction when the film ended is perplexed and displeased. Then secondary thoughts start flushing into my head, exploding my brain as more and more stuffs Luca Guadagnino packed into a 150-minute film emerged while my exhaustion ebbed. Yes there’s a gigantic amount of baits jammed in the reimagined (I prefer using "reimagine" over a "remake" in this case) SUSPIRIA, which took an inspiration from Dario Argento‘s original stylish horror-fantasy.

I find lots of critics praising the film for its extraordinary psychological meaning, from female empowerment to Freudian analysis, from the political juxtaposition to the scrutiny of guilt and banality of evil. Indeed a single watch is a disservice to this "rich" film which Guadagnino and scriptwriter David Kajganich have laid down so many ideas. But I told myself never mistaken broad with depth.

The original SUSPIRIA 77’ may lack a depth for its characters and plot, but like it or not one could still recognise how its employed aestheticism pushes the tantalising sensuality to an extreme and beyond which ultimately transcends a horror genre. In SUSPIRIA 18’, I sense a purposeful motivation of the film to distinguish itself as a sophisticated art film from the original slasher horror. The muted gloomy greyish palette, the reversed role of the young, innocent protagonist Susie (played by Dakota Johnson) in the final act, the expansion of the "Suspiria Universe" other than the three witches by incorporating the politics (RFA, post-Nazism) and social issues (terrorists hijacking a plane) in a divided Berlin in 1977.

I love how different it is from the original but dislike its pretentious outcome and the heavy-handed narrative. No one can argue the story is much richer, it’s at least 50 minutes longer than the original, but does it mean better? Does it need to be that long? It ultimately brings us back to the question, what does we learnt/find from it.

The story is bookended by the scenes with an old psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer, the only prominent male role in the entire film, and as you may have found out already, he is played by Tilda Swinton amidst one of the three roles she played. His character brings an outsider point of view, as the role of Susie has become more as an insider in this reimagined version, thus Klemperer is an essential entry point of the narrative for the audience. And that’s why I think SUSPIRIA 18’ fails to deliver.

The film is divided into six acts and an epilogue as announced at the beginning of the film. It jumps between the outside world (a divided Berlin as seen through the eyes of Klemperer, the police investigators and the terrorists) and the dancing school where the administrators are split into two "parties" led by the unseen Mother Markos and the phenomenal dancing teacher Madame Blanc, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Apparently there’s a juxtaposition between these two worlds but the Klemperer part is tedious and uninspiring in a film that deals with horror and witchcraft. Perhaps I have a high expectation of how Klemperer‘s role would play into the main conspiracy, so when it fails to coalesce and instead mostly stands as a thematic parallelism, I was underwhelmed.

Conversely the school part, especially the extended body horror, the "Pina Bausch inspired" dancing sequence (encapsulated visually as a cult ritual), and the weirdly comfortable state Susie plays along in the story, are absolutely awe-inspiring. The climactic revelation and the bloody denouncement, deliberately shot in a reddish, opaque aesthetics, is my favourite part of the entire film on a visual standpoint.

But on the intellectual level does it make any sense? Luca Guadagnino sketched all the ideas and leave us to do the heavy work of integrating them together. Film critics and supporters immediately jump to decipher the various codes. Why Tilda Swinton played three roles here? Why Klemperer plays such an important role even though writing him off could still have an intact story? There must be a reason so let me analyse it from the psychological and gender standpoint or think of a logical reason otherwise I may look too dumb. That’s not deliberate ambiguity, nor richness, it’s the incompetence of the filmmaker to polish/trim an overstuffed film.

SUSPIRIA 18’ successfully attracts the intellectual and the analytical mind as we all have an urge to comprehend a film that is seemingly confusing in a single watch, so what do we do? Watch it again. Yes there’re more things unveiled, and by doing so we provide the depth the film pretended to have, find the subtext the film failed to contextualize. It’s probably more fun from thinking about the film than watching it, that’s a "bad sigh."

(Original post in my blog:

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