Venice 2018: Luca Guadagnino's 'Suspiria' is a Bewitching Blood Bath
by Alex Billington
September 1, 2018
"Tremble tremble!!! The witches are back…" Dario Argento's original Suspiria from 1977 is a horror classic, perfectly packaged and stylish and one-of-a-kind in every way. Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name) has created a brand new Suspiria, a layered, immensely complex, intense story of witches in Berlin seeking more to join their coven. And it's also stylish and one-of-a-kind in every way. His film may be a remake, but it's much different, and it's an extraordinary work of art - not just cinema, but truly a piece of art. Something that should be hung on the walls in one of the world's best museums and admired for decades to come. This film is going to seriously fuck up some viewers for life, with so much haunting nuance and intricacy and creepiness that it will be hard to ever forget what it shows.
I will be honest up front - I really don't even know where to begin with Suspiria. The Kubrick comparisons I heard beforehand are accurate. There's so much to unpack, and analyze, and discuss. Take your time with it. We have the rest of this year, and the next few years, to talk about it at length. What matters is that you see it, and think about it, and let it wash over you. You'll need a long shower to wash all that blood off, but it's an unquestionably worthwhile experience to have. Suspiria is the kind of film I need to see three or four times before I can really pull it apart and dive into it, examining and questioning every little thing worked into every frame. It's a true cinematic experience, especially at 152 minutes, pulling you in and taking you on a mesmerizing, transfixing journey into the Tanz academy. It's an intense onslaught of colors, and dance, and rainy/snowy/dreary Berlin, and body horror, and haunting imagery, and moody music, and much more.
Guadagnino's Suspiria is set in Berlin while the wall is still up between East & West, using this backdrop for some political commentary. But the main story is still all about Susie Bannion, played by Dakota Johnson - a seemingly soft-spoken young American woman who flies there to join the dance group. Once she arrives, weird things start to happen, other women storm out and leave the academy. The fellow dancers are all nice to her, but the group of mothers who run the place are freaky. Tilda Swinton plays Madame Blanc, the lead dance instructor with a sinister side hidden below the surface, trying to achieve her own goals through dance. But that's not the only role Swinton plays - there's more, maybe many more. Johnson isn't the most captivating, it's everyone else in the cast that is mesmerizing to watch. Who are they, how do they play into the story, what are they, and what will happen to them? There's only on way to find out - go watch this film.
On a technical level, there's nothing at all to criticize here. Luca Guadagnino is a very talented filmmaker, we already know this, and he lets loose with this film - working even harder than before. Each shot, the sets, the framing, it's all phenomenal. The way the camera whips and pans and zooms to enhance the mood even more adds a bit of extra creepiness and intrigue. The editing is a bit jarring at times, but also plays directly into the story and the vintage, haunting feel of the film. The score by Radiohead's Thom Yorke is to die for, my goodness. It couldn't be more perfect. It's not particularly as iconic as the original Goblin score for Argento's film, but it is beautiful and unforgettable in its own way. There is no shiny CGI or enhanced VFX, this film is all raw and real, shot on film and presented as a vintage yet timeless work of cinematic art. And it will definitely stand the test of time, that's for sure. This film is still going to be discussed years from now.
The most insane, you-will-never-forget-it moment in the film is the final climatic showdown in the third act. You know it's coming, but nothing will prepare you. It's literally jaw-dropping, a sequence that will blow your mind and make your heart race, either out of fear or fascinating. And yes, this scene is going to be torn apart and criticized and analyzed extensively. Some of that analysis will be very useful and interesting to consider, while some of that analysis will be over-indulgent or overly-critical. Just enjoy the film, let it have an impact on you however it will. Make up your own mind, and don't let anyone else's feelings influence your own experience with Suspiria. The greatest cinema can and will affect you, and will never leave your memory, and Guadagnino is now a master of this. Listen for the whispers, and let mother take care of you.
Alex's Venice 2018 Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing