Suspiria is a weird movie. It’s the kind of film that strives for mood over cohesion and revels in the revolting, delights in the disgusting, and cares more about the shock than the awe. That doesn’t make it a bad movie. I was reminded a bit of Mother! the awful, masturbatory fever dream of David O. Russell that was all titillation, zero fascination. Suspiria, thankfully, at least has a story, albeit a thin one.

Dakota Johnson is Susie, a dancer from the Midwest, who aces an audition for an exclusive dance studio in a divided Berlin in the 70s. Running the dance studio is the cold and enigmatic Madame Blanc (played by a cold and enigmatic Tilda Swinton). The complex backdrop of a separated Berlin connects to an elderly psychologist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (also played, unrecognizably and for no discernible reason, by Swinton) who is searching for the erratic Patricia, a dancer from the studio who has gone missing.

A thematic heir to the Dario Argento Suspiria from the 70s (which I have not seen), this year’s version is less a remake than a spirited reimagining, that is likely intended for those like me, unfamiliar with the original. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), the film is visually intriguing, from the dank corners of Berlin, to the 70s sheen of the dance studio, to the frenetic dance numbers. Stylistically, the film feels like it was plucked right out of the 70s with its quick zooms, grainy film, and storytelling structure (the graphic chapter headings don’t really feel like they break the action in any significant way and aside from pacing, really do nothing for the story).

Johnson utilizes her particular brand of naïve charm (something seemingly inherited from her mother and grandmother) to great effect, as the fish out of water slowly coming to understand the circumstances she’s in. Mia Goth as her close friend Sara is really the standout, adding the necessary human component to a film full of the surreal. Swinton is great (in both roles in hindsight) as the studious teacher with a dark side, using her sharp features and dark eyes perfectly.

If you didn’t know about the first one, and hadn’t seen a trailer, you may not even realize the film is basically an artistic horror movie, some unholy amalgamation between William Friedkin and Robert Altman. There are a few scares early on, but really it doesn’t go full tilt until the completely off the rails, disturbing and yet somehow laughable final chapter. As it shifts from the provocative supernatural thriller to gory, blood soaked torture porn. At least it’s intriguing up until then.

My Grade – C

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