Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Suspiria (2018) - Movie Review

Fresh off of the phenomenal Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino’s latest is a serious left-hook: A remake of a classic Italian horror flick that, as I’ve gotten into in past reviews, has proven itself quite influential in the weirder realms of cinema. Since this is far more of a re-imagining of the original than a straight-up recreation of it, direct comparisons to that film are honestly a bit misleading. However, let’s get the more immediate basics out of the way: No, this version doesn’t have the same iconic Argento colour palette to it, and Thom Yorke’s soundtrack doesn’t hold a candle to the skin-crawling work of Goblin. So, is there anything that this manages to do better? Well, aside from those two, pretty much everything.

What the visuals lack in aping one of the most memorable aspects of the original, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom makes up for in establishing his own sense of psychedelic terror. It features some camera tricks that feel pulled right out of the 70’s era that birthed the original, in particular the use of crash zooms, but he mainly sticks with more washed-out visuals for the mundane and visceral mind-expansion for the trans-mundane. The dream sequences here are gorgeous, both visually and in the sense that they feel like we’re staring right into someone’s third eye, giving a good initial tinge of the unknown to this seemingly-normal dance academy. Same goes for the extravagant and yet artistically wielded gore on display. Then again, anything that involves Tilda Swinton can scarcely be considered "normal", especially when she follows her trend of being utterly unrecognisable on-screen at points.

Not that this is just weird for its own sake; much like Guadagnino’s past work, this is soaked in an intercultural melange that ends up serving the film’s larger themes a whole world of good. Historically framed during post-WWII Germany, with frequent mentions of the Red Army Faction in the background and even some of the local occult scene brought into account for the main action, the story establishes itself in a world still suffering the aftershocks of abuse of power. No points for guessing who did the abusing.

On its own, this gives the scenes with psychiatrist Dr. Klemperer a very mournful atmosphere, but when put in connection with the witches operating in the dance academy, it takes on a decidedly more feminist tone. With the witchcraft here being represented as the art of dance itself, something that is brought to horrifying reality thanks to Elena Fokina’s performance as dancer Olga (not to mention the highly commendable practical effects), we are shown a more insular instance of abuse of power… as well as what happens when that power changes hands.

From there, the film ends up tapping into one of the subtler ideas at the heart of the original, its use of Jungian imagery and ideas, to show our characters tapping into their own shadows. As accentuated by Dakota Johnson giving the performance she seems born to give as Susie, David Kajganich’s writing looks at notions connected to historical witchcraft, actively questions how popular conception warped its original intent, and emphasising how that kind of connection to one’s darker self (or, more specifically, one’s dark feminine) isn’t as absolutely evil as it may seem. It just falls into the same possibility for abuse of power as the surrounding environment. Parts of that Jungian duality also bleeds through into the casting, given Tilda Swinton’s numerous roles along with the rather intriguing double-casting for Susie’s mother.

But more than anything else I could likely spend forever espousing upon, the big draw of all this? Magic, both figuratively and potentially literal. The depiction of magic in practical terms, describing dance as the creation of words and phrases, gives the whole production a certain tinge of chaos magic, an occult discipline that emphasises language and symbolism as a means to more practical, tangible ends. This is aided by how Thom Yorke literally described his work on the soundtrack as "making spells", not to mention the idea of physical movement as spell-casting being easily applicable to the images and movements that comprise this two-and-a-half-hour film.

The effect this film left me with is honestly kind of scary… but it’s a seductive kind of scary, the kind you would expect from embracing a certain variety of darkness and finding a sense of power in it. I don’t know if this film really is some kind of cinematic hypersigil, or if this film’s rather heady use of theme, text and mind-screwing visuals has just rewired how my brain operates, but it certainly cast its spell on me. To the point where this is the closest I’ve gotten all year to thinking a film should get a perfect score.


  1. I really enjoy your reviews, will you ever go back into doing video reviews?

    1. I've been considering it. With how temperamental a lot of the video sites are being lately, I'm still weighing my options.