SYN Reviews: ‘Suspiria’
Reviewed by April Austen
Preview screening provided by publicists
The poster for Luca Guadagnino’s new epic horror film Suspiria looks like a combination of murder scene and abstract art. Perhaps it’s an artwork of a murder. It is the perfect image to accompany this film, which is itself just like an abstract painting: beautiful and intriguing to look at, but difficult to make sense of.
Suspiria, based on the 1977 version of the same name, is a story told through six acts and an epilogue. Set in divided Berlin in 1977, the film centres on the mysterious disappearances, behaviours and feelings that occur to and are experienced by the girls at the world-renowned Markos Dance Company.
For those familiar with the 1977 version, this iteration establishes the storyline far better. The film begins with a panicky, seemingly mad girl named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) explaining her suspicions about the dance company to her psychotherapist, an old man that it has now been revealed is played by Tilda Swinton wearing heavy prosthetics. Patricia’s claims that the teachers at the company are witches preying on the innocent dancers turns out to be true, and after she mysteriously disappears, the psychotherapist, Dr Josef Klemperer, and her friend at the company, Sara (Mia Goth), begin investigating what is going on.
Meanwhile, a new student from Ohio, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the school and is instantly chosen by the witches as their next target. Swinton also stars as the company’s artistic director, Madame Blanc, who forms a close relationship with Susie as she uses magical powers to prepare her for the witches’ requirements.
Guadagnino’s Suspiria is significantly less scary than the first, focusing more on developing the story and characters. Instead of gruesome, weapon-based murders, the disappearing dancers appear to become more like zombies, with distorted and dislocated bodies and missing limbs. Generally, the scenes with blood aren’t realistic or are so confusing that it is easy to be distracted.
Until the end of the film, the storyline makes sense and appears better thought-out and explored than the previous film. The finale of the film, however, alters the story entirely from the 1977 edition and creates an incredibly complex, overly-sexualised finale with numerous characters that have hardly appeared throughout the rest of the two-and-a-half hours. It is hard to follow and concludes the movie on a somewhat bitter note.
Nevertheless, the film is beautiful to watch with stunning dance scenes (including the confusing finale). The costuming, make-up and lighting are spectacular. It is fantastic to see a feature film that allows such striking choreography to have a prominent role. The filmmaking is also wonderful and distinctive, with the montage dream sequences a definite highlight. The acting is equally stunning by all members of the cast.
The film is more strongly linked to its locational setting and time period than the original, with footage of the Berlin Wall and an ongoing background storyline about the impending release of RAF prisoners. Whilst this storyline drives the character of Dr Klemperer, it feels like a totally separate narrative that doesn’t link at all to the tale of the witches.
Suspiria is an up and down film, sometimes brilliant, otherwise just weird. It feels like a film that may benefit from multiple viewings, but regardless of the storyline, it will always remain a stunning visual masterpiece and for that reason alone, is worth the watch.
Suspiria will be released in select cinemas on November 8th.