Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★★½

Following CALL ME BY YOUR NAME with SUSPIRIA has to be one of the strangest curveballs in film history. It’s a double-feature I can’t wait to see programmed at future director retrospectives when Guadagnino will no doubt be looked back upon as one of the great filmmakers of the decade. While many of the tactile elements that made CALL ME BY YOUR NAME so immersive are still present in Guadagnino’s vision, SUSPIRIA violently emerges as its own beast, bathed in tears and blood.

A remake of Dario Argento’s cult-classic, Guadagnino’s version of SUSPIRIA, scripted by David Kajganich (in six chapters and an epilogue), has been described as being more of a spiritual remake than a traditional one (Okay, I’ll admit to never having seen Argento’s, an error I will soon rectify!) Whereas the dance school being a coven is a major plot-point in the original, Guadagnino reveals this from the get-go.

A young woman, Patricia Hingle (played in a very brief cameo by Chloe Grace Moretz) visits her psychiatrist Doctor Jozef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton in heavy prosthetics). She seems almost possessed, but her desperate claims that her dance school is run by a group of sadistic witches are rationally dismissed by Klemperer as ‘delusions.’ However, Patricia soon disappears, prompting Klemperer to look deeper into the matter.

Meanwhile, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the dance academy. Susie is a fresh-faced American who’s come to fulfill a childhood dream of living in Berlin under the tutelage of Madame Blanc (again Tilda Swinton). Despite lacking any traditional training, her unrestrained, innate ability impresses Blanc, who immediately seeks not only to make Susie the group’s lead-dancer, but also a vessel for a mysterious, sinister purpose.

The script is unbelievably dense, more than justifying its massive 2 ½ hour runtime (multiple viewings will almost certainly be rewarded). Kajganich's screenplay dances around a network of stories, leaving us to connect the dots. Although the film tackles feminity, sexuality, and violence, the thread that connects it all lies in the film’s setting: The German Autumn of 1977, a time when a divided Berlin was still reeling from the aftermath of World War II.

While the dance-school in part resembles a fascist regime, as its leaders’ doctrine slowly takes ownership of their students’ young, subservient bodies, Klemperer’s own story holds up the clearest allusion to the traumas of post-war Germany. Klemperer, still grieving from the unexplained loss of his wife (seemingly to a concentration camp) has to battle with the conscience of turning a blind eye, not only towards his wife’s fears of persecution, but Patricia’s unanswered cries of witchcraft. His story is a tragic, human one, that works spectacularly well alongside the supernatural waltz at the dance academy.

Uniting it all is Luca Guadagnino’s superb command of his craft. Alongside Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (the genius behind Cannes-winner UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, and the criminally under-appreciated ARABIAN NIGHTS) Guadagnino treats us to frame-after-frame of understated beauty, with the occasional bloodbath thrown in for good measure. Guadagnino has a way of making his artifice feel completely natural, that most directors can only dream of. His actors are all brilliant in the space their given. Dakota Johnson ranges from meek and innocent to fiercely primal, while Tilda Swinton (in all of three roles!) provides both the film’s human and occult center as Klemperer and Madame Blanc.

Beneath the visuals lies the musical genius of Thom Yorke, having followed Radiohead bandmate Jonny Greenwood into film scoring. His instrumentals range from haunting, electronic atmospherics, to appropriately channeling his Krautrock influences from the period, and finally also delivering a few stunning ballads. And while it may be a little jarring for fans to hear his unmistakable falsetto play non-diegetically, it lends a certain melancholy to a story steeped in emotional traumas, which transcends the screen and rattles the heart. I dare you to listen to the song that accompanies the film’s crescendo of a finale (“Unmade,” it’s called) and not tear-up.

In fact, Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA is more sad than it is scary. It’s still undeniably linked to the horror genre, but like Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, Guadagnino’s film is more of a slow-burner of a horror. In fact, the film doesn’t even approach the scare-levels of Kubrick’s film. Perhaps a closer blood-brother (or sister I should say) would be Michael Haneke’s CACHE, which at its heart seeks the probe the historical traumas of its setting and philosophical questions they raise.

As SUSPIRIA slowly builds to its grand, bloodthirsty finale, Guadagnino knows that when the credits roll, the scares from the theater won’t be what linger deepest in the minds of his audience, but rather the ever-relevant, deeply disturbing questions about the nature of evil, and its gleeful fetishism with feeding on the human soul. If there’s a silver-lining, it lies in the final image of the film’s epilogue - an image, which suggests not only hate has the ability to survive through the trials of history, but love as well. I can’t wait to see it again.

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