Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Suspiria is an art house horror film that is a bit too convoluted at the beginning and too obvious at the end. Somewhere in the middle, however, there's an interesting tale of horror, thrills, and gore (lots and lots of gore). The film from director Luca Guadagnino throws us immediately into the odd world as we struggle to make sense of the rambling incoherence of a troubled girl (Chloƫ Grace Moretz) to her psychiatrist (Tilda Swinton). While initially dismissing the story as nothing more than the ravings of a troubled mind, Dr. Klemperer becomes more concerned once the girl goes missing and begins looking more closely at the prestigious dance company that may have driven her to an early grave.

At the same time, the school admits a talented American student (Dakota Johnson) who quickly becomes a favorite of Madame Blanc (also Swinton). Despite being the newest student, Susie (Johnson) shows a remarkable understanding of the dance company's trademark piece (which it turns out is far more than a simple dance). The film features one terrific scene which clues audiences in on the power of the dance while Susie, apparently, remains unaware.

The nature of the film's first scene between Moretz and Swinton forces the audience to pay attention quite closely. However, halfway through the film (if you are still paying attention) Suspiria doesn't so much foreshadow how the film will end but give away the entire final act. The movie needs you to look closely, just not too closely, for the story to unfold naturally.

Suspiria's feel and tone is certainly helped by the decision to place the tale in 1970s Berlin. The look and ambiance is further created by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and the choice to use no primary colors allowing for a gray and uninteresting world outside the walls of the dance company. The nature of the ritualistic dance also feeds the story well, both before and after its true purpose is revealed. The manner in which the film reveals the truth about the gaggle of women in control of the company offers glimpses into the true purpose of both the company and their upcoming live performance.

While the movie is well put together and acted, it isn't without some serious flaws. The script by David Kajganich (inspired by the earlier film of the same name) includes multiple references to the RAF hostage crisis over television and radio. While a single inclusion may help fit the tale into historical context, the repeated use feels odd (particularly because it never leads anywhere). Along with some storytelling issues, the movie also includes a few too many characters as both the sheer number of dancers and teachers blur together. After a long build-up, the film's gruesome climax is so over-the-top that it undercuts the gore and horror as the bizarre borders on laughable. And the epilogue also feels a bit unnecessary, drawing out the story for the sake of wrapping up a single loose end that would have better better off left alone.

In the end I'm not sure Suspiria works, at least not as intended and not for its full running time. Putting aside its flaws, the film does provide several strong visuals, dark foreboding and ambiance, and several strong scenes (including the dance rehearsal which is impossible to forget). How the character of the psychiatrist is also woven into the later scenes, and taken advantage of by the company, adds another layer to the story as well. In the end Suspiria is a niche film that may take time to find its audience. While I can't quite bring myself to recommend the movie, there's enough here that works that also makes it impossible to ignore and may indeed be of interest to the right niche.

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