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By midlandsmovies, Apr 27 2019 07:20AM



Suspiria (2018) Dir. Luca Guadagnino


Having just discovered the original Suspiria 1977 two years ago (yeah, I know) I was impressed with the Giallo style and music of the cult classic but a tad underwhelmed – perhaps as a result of high expectations.


However, as stylish as Dario Argento’s film was, this film – which is “inspired” by that horror of the same name – goes to much more complex and dark places than Argento’s slasher.


The story is familiar as Dakota Johnson’s expert dancer heads to Berlin to enrol in a dance academy in the 70s but finds there are dark forces behind the façade of the respected school.


Stylistically Guadagnino avoids the extreme colours of the original – bar some fantastical dream sequences – and shows Berlin as an oppressive and grey city rocked by terrorist atrocities. And although these ideas aren’t fully formed – some going nowhere – the constant presence of outside public news is as oppressive as the oppressiveness featured within the mirrored walls of the school itself.


Despite her unquestionable talent Susie Bannion (Johnson) begins to exhibit traits of a missing student and a parallel story sees psychotherapist Josef Klemperer investigate the mystery. Sadly one of the biggest drawbacks is the decision to cast Tilda Swinton, an actress I love, as the very male doctor. Each of her appearances – in what has to be said is fantastic make-up – took me out of the movie and seems an excellent experiment in the wrong film for it.


Swinton does the best she can caked in prosthetics BUT also appears as stern matriarch Madame Blanc – the lead choreography teacher and away from the sex-swap role is much better in delivering a strict matron – but one with a layer of sensitivity and doubt by the film’s conclusion.


The film’s editing begins chaotically and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke provides a soundtrack that echoes some of the original’s melodies but in fact sets itself apart from it in the best way possible. From full songs that contain his inimitable falsetto, Yorke also seems to have delved into horror music’s past. With orchestral segments reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s Psycho score to repeated piano refrains influenced by Halloween and The Exorcist, Yorke keeps the score diverse, layered and yet unobtrusive throughout. A phrase not echoed in the original’s bombastic and totally over-powering music.


One of the best scenes in the film occurs when a student threatens to leave but is locked in a rehearsal room and Johnson’s dance moves in another room are replicated – voodoo doll-style – by the trapped woman. Smashing her bones into the mirrored wall and with joints flying out of sockets, the beauty of the dance shapes are contrasted brilliantly with the nastiness of the injuries being inflicted.


Disgusting, shocking and bloody, it’s a masterclass of visual storytelling and horrific aesthetics, and is one of the best scenes of 2018 without question and has to be seen to be believed. Brace yourself people.


As the teachers are slowly revealed to be part of a witches coven, the film explores issues of motherhood as they try to “re-birth” the spirit of Markos – currently contained in the body of a disfigured corpse-like woman.


The dancing is fantastic and the dull-colour palette of the film is punctuated by the vivid reds of dance costumes, dresses and, of course, plenty of the red stuff as Johnson uncovers awful goings-on in the hidden catacombs of the academy building.


As the film comes to a physical crescendo the ending is a slight let down with a new twist on the original. And with the good work delivered to that point it becomes frustratingly unfortunate that clichéd operatic music and a seen-it-before ceremony brings the film to a slightly drab conclusion.


That said, despite a 2 and a half hour run time – which certainly doesn’t feel like it – Suspiria is a gory piece of art from start to finish. Themes of guilt, history and power are all thrown into a mix of dark passions and the body horror/beauty of contemporary choreography. Whilst not all of them gel together, the film dances to its own ritualistic chaos in a distorted orgy of cinematic pleasures.


★★★★ ½


Michael Sales



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