I am very rarely lost for words. Regardless of my thoughts or feelings about a film, being able to express my obnoxious opinion is usually something that comes quite easily. This review is going to be quite the opposite. So please forgive me if this review feels to lack a clear through line. I am honestly just going to try and write this in the best possible way to reflect the movie that has left me feeling so lost.
Suspiria. Director Luca Guadagnino’s “homage” to the 1977 original of the same name (rather than a remake). Clocking in at a massive 2 hours and 32 minutes Suspiria has left me with a blanket of mixed feelings, thoughts and emotions all mixing together like several pots of paint that have been knocked over on a canvas making a huge mess of confusion that when you look closely it all does make sense but is too terrifying to try and understand. Yeap, I know, what the hell am I talking about? Suspiria.
Suspiria follows a world renowned dance company and a dark secret. This is all I am going to say about the story line because as far as narrative structure goes Suspiria paves it’s own way and it’s pointless me trying to put it in words. Much like the films of David Lynch, the themes and the mood are far more important than any attempts to follow traditional narrative film structure. Those who seek a beginning, middle and end with a satisfying resolution may struggle to leave feeling fulfilled, although if you are willing to forgo the ideals of traditional western storytelling then there is certainly a well rounded story to be consumed – but it certainly is for those with slightly more eccentric tastes.
I would be reluctant to suggest that Guadagnino has gone for style over substance. Although this is a good phrase to suggest the kind of film one could expect in Suspiria, I don’t think it is fair to suggest that it lacks substance. It has plenty of substance but it is presented in such an eccentric fashion that it is harder to immediately understand – it is a film which themes sit with you for hours (and possibly days) after the screening ends and your reaction to said themes are black and white. This is what makes it so brilliant.
The film is both visually outstanding and jarring. Not only in the confrontingly violent imagery that it throws at you but also in its use of crash zooms and sudden jerks of the camera. These moments serve the film in two ways – to continue the sense of endless unease we feel as spectators of the movie and also to reference the style and era of film making that the original Suspiria film helped create. As the viewer we are continually trying to piece together the seemingly mismatched parts of a jigsaw puzzle, yearning to finish it and at the same time not wanting to see what ugly and often frightening image it reveals.
Feminism, revolution, the abuse of power, the creative demons – these are all ideals that are presented to us as we walk the hallways of this frightening world trying to understand what our role in all of this is. The music by Thom Yorke from Radiohead fame is outstanding and adds layer upon layer to an already richly sensory experience. The acting is 2nd to none lead strongly by Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton (who plays 3 characters – something I didn’t even know until looking it up at the end).
I am aware how vague and possibly pretentious this review comes across. I am admittedly struggling to write a review in the traditional format because this is how the film has left me feeling. For the first 45 mins I thought it was going to be a typical art house film that would get lost in the weight of its own pointless pretentiousness and then for the rest of the film I was completely entranced, holding my breath, wanting to look away but like Alex from A Clockwork Orange it was as though my eyes were being held open and the images forced into my brain. Then I felt like one of Wonka’s victims as we went on the paddle boat through a dark tunnel of disturbing images while he sung “there’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going.” I was lost.
After the film ended my father and I sat there in silence for several minutes. Part of me wanting to cry out of relief or sadness or revelation as I listened to the other film goers mixed reactions of “wow” and “what the hell.”
Trying to put a number out of 10 on a movie like Suspiria is not an easy task. So I think it is important that I try instead to explain who would like this film. I certainly don’t think this is a cinematic experience that will be enjoyed (if enjoyed is even the right word) by everyone. I would suggest that the casual film goer give this a miss. Those who have a love for the craft of film making, European cinema and more avant-garde styles of film may fall in love with every alluring moment presented here or could equally be completely repulsed by it’s methods. There will be people who watch it and pretend to like it so they sound smart and artistic and those who genuinely like it. I honestly don’t quite know where I sit. As far as explaining the genre – it definitely has elements of horror, drama and poetry. The choreography is sublime and it serves as one of the main protagonists in the dark tale. It is extremely confronting. Draining. I really don’t know what I feel about it.
Suspiria may be one of the most compelling, unique and mesmerising pieces of cinema I have and perhaps ever will experience. This movie achieved everything it set out to. I loved it. I hope I never have to see it again.