The one thing that can be said with certainty about Suspiria is that it’s not for everyone. I saw the film with my mother and a friend of mine was also in the audience that night.
I loved it.
My mum said there was too much blood.
My friend hated it.
That pretty much sums up all the different reactions to Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. It’s a five star film while also being a one star film, depending on your subjective experience of the film. Suspiria is a film that is experienced rather than passively watched and consumed. If successful, it will draw you into it’s world from the first frame, but it’s equally likely to push you away.
Suspiria follows young Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) who dreams of auditioning for Madame Blanc at the Markos Dance Academy. Audition she does and gets in when a place opens up after another student goes missing. The missing student, Patricia Hingle shows up at her psychiatrist’s home, panick-y and delusional, muttering about the witches at the academy and how they’re after her body. Are there witches at the academy and more importantly, what do they want with Susie?
Suspiria is a dizzyingly good film. Guadagnino’s vision here is focused and uncompromised. There is something incredibly soothing and reassuring to know that a film is the very best version of itself, the exact end product the filmmaker was aiming for. And surely that should be taken into consideration when reviewing a film, how well it achieves the goals it sets out early on.
Tilda Swinton, playing a whopping three characters is an utterly delightful presence. She is a chameleon, an actress who doesn’t embody a role but lets the role completely take her over. Dakota Johnson is also good. Her time on the Fifty Shades films seems to have paid off because she is remarkably confident in her body and presents it to us fully. Not so much in terms of nudity, but in terms of full access to its nooks and crannies. Her body is on show here, never sexually, but simply to appreciate its physicality and how much the human, especially female body can and will endure.
The real star is Guadagnino himself. His filmmaking is front and centre in Suspiria. Remakes are difficult, but Guadagnino has cracked it. By not attempting to recreate any of Dario Argento’s iconic visuals, he has created a film that stands firmly on its own feet while paying homage to the old film. Guadagnino’s love for the original Suspiria has clearly made the director understand that trying to imitate something so iconic and loved would have been a failure from the beginning.
Suspiria is strongly a film about women and the female experience, but it never becomes overly political or feminist. Clever move from Guadagnino, who understand that it’s probably not his place to make a film like that. Suspiria has a veil of femininity over it, it’s constantly examining the female body and the quest for truth. Suspiria gives women power and momentum. Men don’t have either in Suspiria’s world, more precisely Berlin in 1977. They are cast to the side, simply witnesses or even toys for our coven to play with. Suspiria is a fascinating look into the community, the coven if you will, of women in the film’s heart. These women are feral and beautiful, graceful and beastly at the same time, they are complex creatures with complex motives and inner lives, even if we only get a glimpse of those. Women have always been accused of witchcraft, or dark magic by men in power. Suspiria shows us the true power of these very literal witches and the end result is a hypnotising, intoxicating and a relentlessly violent, yet liberating film.