Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★★★

Suspiria is art-house horror at its most pretentious and impenetrable, but if you can resonate on its unique wavelength, you will find a film experience like no other this year.

The plot is simple, and borrows its basic premise from Dario Argento's 1977 masterwork: Susie Bannion, a young woman from small-town America, arrives at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin and soon discovers that it is run by a coven of witches. This simple story masks a sprawling, thematically dense work that is packed with symbolism and metaphor, touching on such disparate ideas as the artist's destruction of those tasked with carrying out his work, to the guilt of those who do not act or believe, to how cultural revolution can only come from violent uprising by the next generation. It is a film that will surely prove rewarding on subsequent viewings as you pick up on how these ideas are woven through the very fabric of the film: everything from framing, color choice, and even casting contributing to these larger themes.

Suspiria is marketed as a horror film, but it earns that classification not by delivering traditional 'scares', but by conjuring imagery that is truly horrific and deeply disturbing. Argento's original film announced its grand-guignol-esque intentions by immediately opening with a lavish kill sequence. Luca Guadagnino, on the other hand, chooses to be more coy with this film's horrific elements, introducing a feeling of dread and unease from the get-go, but withholding anything truly horrific until the second of the film's six explicit acts. But when the sequence does arrive with Susie's first dance performance, it is utterly jaw-dropping. The eerie, unearthly beauty of the dance is inter-cut with another character's bone-crunchingly gruesome demise, resulting in a mixture of emotions that is a complete shock to the senses. And once the film's macabre intentions are revealed, they do not let up, adding horror upon horror with sickening dream sequences and otherworldly dances until it reaches a fever-pitch with the brutal, monstrous, yet oddly empowering finale.

And none of this could possibly work without Guadagnino's visionary direction and technical perfection. Where the original film used an Alice-In-Wonderland-esque aesthetic with modernist sets and bright, saturated colors; this Suspiria instead establishes a brutalist world nearly devoid of color. At the beginning, the only source of color seems to be Susie's rust-red hair, but as the film progresses, more red tones are gradually introduced, mirroring Susie's self-awakening, until the finale is completely awash in bright, bloody red. The camera-work uses twitchy, gliding movements and unconventional angles to make the viewer feel as if they are a spectral presence haunting the Markos Dance Academy. The editing keeps the film moving at a hypnotic pace and emphasizes the film's musicality, cutting on tempo to Thom Yorke's hauntingly beautiful score. But perhaps Guadagnino's masterstroke is casting Tilda Swinton in three distinct roles; each one a character in a position of power who has either abused that power or neglected its impact. She embodies each one utterly and uniquely, showcasing her incredible talent and range.

Suspiria is certainly not a film for everyone. It is cerebral yet grotesque, and has the hypnotically lazy pace often associated with classic European films. But those looking for something dense and audacious, that will worm its way into your psyche long after the end credits, will find that Suspiria is perfection.

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