Film

'Suspiria (2018)' Ravishes with Beauty and Ugliness

Suspiria (2018) (© Amazon Studios / source: IMDB )

Luca Guadagnino's re-make of the Argento classic is a pretentious arthouse mind-screw that demands to be seen.

Suspiria (2018)
Luca Guadagnino

Amazon Studios

2 Nov 18 (US) / 16 Nov 18k (UK)

Other

It's challenging to convey the visceral horror of Suspiria (2018). For 150 minutes your senses are bombarded by disturbing imagery, repressed nightmares, and the growing dread that an ancient, lurking evil is about to be unleashed. Unlike the vivid colors and intense gore of Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic Suspiria, director Luca Guadagnino takes things in a decidedly realistic and methodical direction. Suspiria (2018) is like an echo in your brain that remains tantalizingly indecipherable. It's an uncompromising paradox of beauty and ugliness, depression and inspiration; a pretentious arthouse mind-screw in every glorious sense.

Yet, there's an abiding humanity at its core. If you listen closely and stay invested for the entire grueling ride, you will hear an aching plea for forgiveness not only for these characters, but for our monstrous humanity. The injustices we commit -- driven by our primal instincts of pleasure and pain -- will surely return to haunt us. Suspiria (2018) is that unholy reckoning and it's absolutely magnificent.

The bones of Argento's inspiration remain in place to support Guadagnino's updated interpretation. A young American dancer named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) rejects her religious Midwestern roots in favor of the prestigious Helena Markos Dance Company in Berlin. Less polished and more organic than her classmates, Susie immediately impresses the troupe's choreographer, the inscrutable and chain smoking Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). She senses a darkness in Susie's reckless form of modern dance, and the two forge a professional relationship that smolders with sinister and sexual undertones.

(© Amazon Studios / source: IMDB)

The Dance Company harbors a deep secret that only a few of Susie's classmates dare acknowledge. The price of disobedience becomes clear when Olga (Elena Fokina), the troupe's lead dancer, accuses Madame Blanc and her fellow instructors of being witches. In perhaps the film's most bravura and agonizing sequence, Susie's violent dance routine is mystically transferred to Olga's body. The gruesome results are a distinct callback to some of David Cronenberg's best body horror, and a clear indication that Argento and Guadagnino have very different ideas about how to kill people.

Suspiria (2018), or "Six Acts and an Epilogue in a Divided Berlin" as a title card announces, traffics in the grays and browns of human drudgery. It's 1977 and the Cold War is on. The Berlin Wall demarcates a cosmopolitan West Germany from the dreary Soviet controlled East side. While Argento's daring use of color and elaborate horror devices (rooms full of razor wire, exotic strangulation, etc.) suggest a fixation with the flashy West, Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name, 2017, A Bigger Splash, 2018) is anchored firmly in the ancient atrocities that created the invisible (and visible) boundary with the East.

As the fictional supernatural terrors of beautiful young dance students and spooky witches unfold, a real-life hostage drama plays out in the background; the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner by Palestinian radicals in 1977. Guadagnino's motivations for using the German Autumn as a backdrop for Suspiria (2018) aren't immediately clear, but we come to appreciate its impact on the film's overarching theme; that of a buried past re-visiting and cannibalizing the present.

(© Amazon Studios / source:IMDB)

Of course, one needn't be a history scholar to appreciate Suspiria (2018). This is merely some added subtext to enhance the truly creepy events at the Helena Markos Dance Company. Hidden chambers imprison unspeakable abominations and Thom Yorke's atmospheric score creates the illusion that you can hear their constant screams. The dance troupe – ropey red garments draping their writhing bodies – straddles an unsettling line between pleasure and pain as they perform Madame Blanc's signature piece, "Volk". Terrifying nightmares of unimaginable cruelty haunt Susie, preparing her (and us) for a finalé that forsakes all reason and good taste. Indeed, the entire film is composed of disturbing cinematic visions that can't be unseen.

What distinguishes Guadagnino's re-imagining from Argento's classic is the churning humanity at its core, manifested in the curious psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton in heavy make-up). Approached by a frantic former student of the Dance Company named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), Dr. Klemperer is compelled to investigate matters for himself. As he struggles to uncover the fate of Patricia and another student (Mia Goth as 'Sara'), he's forced to confront his own guilt over abandoning his wife to the Nazis at the turn of World War II.

That Klemperer is selected to be the human "witness" to the coven's rituals is no accident. When his time came to stare down evil, he succumbed to cowardice. Perhaps if he can save these young dancers from the evil lurking within Markos he can purge his guilty conscience. It's the kind of twisted bargain we make with fate, just to sleep at night.

(© Amazon Studios / source: IMDB)

Not that these women need anyone's help. Suspiria (2018) pulsates with feminine strength and energy. Obviously, the entire cast is comprised of women. More importantly, this is the story of strong women who hold society together while the men are off playing their games of conquest. Theirs is an ancient wisdom; nourished by resentment, anger, love, and, ultimately, rebirth. As World War II raged, Madame Blanc held the Dance Company together by embracing that ugliness and using it to empower her students. "We must break the nose of every beautiful thing," she instructs Susie; a lesson she is frighteningly eager to absorb.

What Guadagnino has created is an externalization of repressed evil that exposes each sharpened edge with unadulterated, self-indulgent artistry. Yes, Suspiria (2018) is too self-indulgent and, arguably, too long. Many viewers will tire of the excessiveness, while others will complain that the film's editing style is intentionally disorienting. It's also a work of uncompromising, unrestrained beauty… and ugliness. Sure to polarize audiences, Suspiria (2018) is a movie to be savored and feared.


9
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.