Suspiria ★★½

Luca Guadagnino's reimagining of Dario Argento's classic masterpiece Suspiria is a two-headed Hydra: at times it's a brilliant art film with stunning sequences of dance and death, but mostly I found the other head was the one duplicating itself almost endlessly - and that's one of shameless pompousness and meaningless self-indulgence.

The only key similiarity is the very basic plotline: a young woman called Suzy comes to a prestigious dance school in Germany in 1977, but unbeknownst to her, it's run by a powerful coven of witches.

First off, if you're going to "rent" (wink wink) this one, make sure you have proper subtitles, I think they speak more German and French than they do English. That made an already lofty film even more illusive.

Let's be real here, this owes more to David Bowie and Baader-Meinhof than it does to Dario Argento. This grandiose seven-act ballet is not set in a surreal horror fairytale of primary colors, but in a distinctly brutalized late-70's sepia toned Berlin, and it is awash in ambience for the sake of ambience, you can practically smell the cigarette butts on the snow covered concrete. At first I thought that was promising enough: Guadagnino certainly sets his film apart by going the opposite route. It's just that the stylistic choices are so deafening that they clash with this more grounded world, and I often feel like I'm watching a music video maestro going absolutely bonkers with every effect, editing trick, makeup effect, sound effect and dialogue choice he can possibly muster. He also insists on bashing you over the head with political subtext that could've been far more delicately and effectively handled.

There were things I really enjoyed though. I really like that the story, as gassy as it is, used dancing as a main throughline (setting itself apart yet again from Argento's film, which had one or two ballet scenes with non-dancers flailing around unconvincingly), and that's when it's at its best: when those exquisite dance sequences blur the lines between life and death, sexuality and individuality, animal passion and grotesque dismay. Dakota Johnson really commits and I feel like the dances often told more than the plot itself, even though it's got a lofty two and a half hours to do so. Perhaps this would've been far better suited as a modern art stage performance, but then again, that's also when the editing places you into a unique frenzy of power and expression. That's when things "click". Beyond that it's got subplots and pub scenes and title cards and editing choices that seemed to jump out and smack me in the face when I wanted to be drawn into Suzy's world, not the other way around.

Somewhere there's a great film here that was needlessly overinflated along the way. I think this is the arthouse equivalent to a Michael Bay movie or any other blockbuster action extravaganza: it's ultimately far too full of itself to be completely effective, but there are sequences where the bravado pays off in a wonderful way - I can only imagine if they came as legitimate surprises in a more restrained film instead of being buried in this cacophony of indie masturbation.

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