It’s a dawning in the new age of the final girl in a genre that never dies. Everyone has something to be afraid of. Everyone has to face fear at some point, but in the mean time we can be gratifyingly satisfied by the suspense it creates in tormenting our psyches into somber submission. I must say watching a unique horror film is its own kind of adrenaline rush. As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” And when that reality infiltrates wickedness, ritualistic power, conveyed in dance movement of the female body, you know Luca Guadagnino’s reboot of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic, SUSPIRIA is going to be a hot hoot to handle.
In the retelling of this insidious, violent horror story, as a culture we’re simultaneously facing an upheaval of female empowerment explicitly in films during the post Weinstein era. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition especially when you link it to the horror genre. There is always going to be a deep, dark, secret lurking in the underbelly of something or someone perceived so established and glorified, it yearns an increment of trust. The horror in that is manipulation, corruption, and the guilt of torment it generates for victims and witnesses for years to come. Here we are in 2018 resurrecting an incredible amount of dirty secrets that have unfortunately befallen on peoples’ lives. So what does this have to do with SUSPIRIA? The transference of power. It ignites corruption among a coven of witches who are esssentially exploiting young naive minds (girls) while disguising themselves as beloved mentors of dance demonstrating the sadistic lengths they’ll go to obtain such power all for their own personal gain. There’s no morality, just brutality, and a sacrificial ritualistic orgy scene that harnesses flirtation with the macabre winking a sinister eye to notorious body horror even Cronenberg might be proud of.
One of my favorite sequences is in the restaurant where the dancers and their mentors gather the night before the performance, laughing, drunk off of red wine, all becoming submissive without even knowing it. And who do we have at each end of the table? Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and Susie (Dakota Johnson) dressed quite similarly in their stoic expressions, festering with what I assume telepathic thoughts, hindering a subtlety in the tug-a-war of power. What’s also interesting is if you look at each dancer and their respective instructor, siting side by side, each bare a common mannerism, or facial resemblance and it’s kind of startling. It’s almost as if their sacrificing a younger representation of themselves, yearning for that everlasting, unattainable sentiment of youth outlasting death with magical spells and solidarity. Yet, we soon learn not everyone in the coven is on that same page, which births a triumph of conflict. Our final girl isn’t exactly who we think she is in this spellbinding, chaotic circus.
Now, the act of resistance is a powerful thing especially when there’s a frantic discourse on female empowerment and the thing that pushed me away from the very idea of SUSPIRIA being a film about feminism is again the corruption of power. I was so focused on the coven of witches that I took my distracted attention away from Susie, our main star who’s traveled to Berlin in the late 1970s to study under the direction of Madame Blanc in the renowned Markos Dance Academy where everyone seems to succumb to darkness, and eventually insanity. It was all so subtle and slick, I was astonished on how fooled I was for not seeing it immediately and maybe listening to the soundtrack for a week and a half really got inside my head, like a possessed entity drowning in a river of exploration. But, I came up for air and the ah-ha moment finally sank in! And that’s where my head’s been at all this week. So confounded by a film I love so dearly, yet want to pick apart it’s heartless soul. See, it’s cast it’s own spell on me. It’s very mystical, fluctuating, and frustrating. But beyond it all, Susie’s character is the thread of revenge intertwined into a mysterious story full of flicker and pizzazz. That’s all you really need to know and where those droplets of feminism come into play resides heavily in the acts of Susie’s character. An act of defiance among a corrupt group. And if you wanted to stretch the definition of feminism be my guest just remember feminism is about equality among the sexes, it’s a political construct, not just about praising them.
As my head continues through the course of the film and in every detailed moment of how Susie’s narrative progresses, I’m deeply bewildered by the minor nuisances that exposes some pertinent clues. For instance, when Susie and Sara go into the administrator’s office to find Patricia’s personal file making sure she’s okay because she’s been missing from the very beginning while concurrently, these administrators’ (aka witches) have temporarily taken two detectives hostage, who are also looking into Patricia’s whereabouts have acrimoniously been paralyzed by the witches. And what are these witches doing? They’re having some fun fondling their nether regions. Here’s an example of corruption of power while also giving the audience a clue into Susie’s strange persona because her reaction is very telling. As per usual a character in these circumstances would be worried, afraid, and flee the premises sensing something is morally off, but how does Susie react? She giggles. Almost as if she wants to join in on the fun, cultivating her own curiosity left me a bit disturbed and dumbfounded. This isn’t normal Final Girl behavior. This is behavior from someone in tuned with something of a higher power. Spoiler Alert! The girl summons death, an act of revenge so tumultuous, you’re essentially in an incubus of terror because there’s so much abrasive information buzzing around, it’s a damn struggle to it keep all contained. It’s out of this world wild, like a fiesta of blood and body parts exploding everywhere making it marginally over the top, but I mean this is what 70s horror was notorious for. Going off the rails with an elaborate flash of color and light that’s makes your mind feel like it’s on acid. Not that I ever want to try acid, but it certainly teeters in the same vein of a fragmented montage from a Roger Corman film such as THE TRIP, or EASY RIDER. Remember that grave yard scene in New Orleans? I think I need to lay down, sip some tea, my heart’s racing just thinking about it.
Given this is a reboot cult classic from 1977, I know there has to be a violent murder within the first act, and if Luca Guadagnino was going to be bold in attempting to top Argento’s first 15 minutes of horror then there would have to be something outlandishly abrasive. It certainly defied my expectations because I went in with no expectations and it was the best way to go into this film. So, brace yourselves for a grotesque, grisly murder that will make you cringe and possibly squirm uncomfortably in your seat. Guadagnino does this in a very tease of torment kind of way which pairs vividly well with the beloved expression of dance. Death dance is more like it. Can you hear the crunching of bones and the squishing of internal organs making bodily fluids gush from the violent impact such a force movement can have on the body? That’s just the appetizer and it’s nasty to watch. Elena Fokina (Olga) does a tremendous performance capturing the moments that lead up to such a confrontational scene. She deserves a damn Oscar. Alas so does Tilda Swinton, who plays three characters, two of which are disguised in heavy prosthetics. She’s brilliant and a damn goddess. At one point all three of her characters share a scene together, which is interesting considering we have three mothers; our Lady of Tears, Lady of Sighs, and Lady of Darkness. Corruption breeds darkness, sighing is an act of exhaling which manifests in relief, and tears reference a variety of things; sorrow, perhaps guilt? All three of these elements boil down into the final bloodbath of a scene. I feel like each character Tilda embodies is a very loose representation of all three mothers; guilt, relief, and darkness. Think about it. Madame Blanc carries a degree of doubt especially when she knows Susie is the sacrifice. Their relationship is symbiotic to an extent, because they share empathy. Mother Suspirium, the Lady of Sighs, expresses compassion, and in a sense relief. That’s somewhat synonmous with empathy right? There’s that moment where Madame Blanc doesn’t want Susie to go through what she’s about to go through, and in a sense she’s giving her an out, a moment of relief so to speak. Then you have Dr. Klemperer who’s a psychotherapist dealing with grief and guilt, who’s also been corralled as the witness to this sadistic ritual. This character can also be considered an abstraction of our Lady of Tears. And finally you have Mother Markos who is pure evil, destructive, and selfish (our Lady of Darkness). All three of these forces converge together and it’s gnarly defying all sense of reality. I’ll admit it. I was glossy eyed, seduced, possibly even spellbound by this subversive film imprinting a desirous curiosity upon my weary soul. How dare you film!?
Another harmonious aspect of this bloody charade, is Thom Yorke’s emotive singing voice swaying you into a world of eerie charm of repetitive melodies that almost feels like you’re being crushed into a mirror of madness while oddly feeling soothed and seduced. He sings about our “bodies” and “salvation” in the song titled Suspirium, which is all synchronized to elaborative, gripping piano playing. Quite a creepy soundtrack that feels as if you’re being subjected to electric currents pulsating through your body producing evocative goosebumps, leaving you comatose. Too much? There’s also a familiarity to Volk, which is essentially the death song but very much in the same rhythm reminded me of the Tubular Bells from THE EXORCIST. It’s that sinister melody, paralyzed with destruction that progresses the build up by intercutting each shot with Olga’s demise and Susie’s violent dance moves. It’s a challenging sequence that sequesters your mind into that world, almost as if the marriage of sound and editing have casted a unique spell on it’s audience. It’s brilliant! The movement and pacing of this film is beautiful albeit some may complain it drags on being a two and half hour film. It’s all part of the fun torment of enduring a horror film. Part of you for the love of God may want to end, and the other part of you is clawing your fingernails into the arm rest.
SUSPIRIA is visceral cinema where some may argue this is an overhyped art film and I love sparring with people who loathe art films because there are so many different ways in interpreting them. It’s a jigsaw puzzle for the mind, I love it. Aside from how you interpret the film, another harrowing aesthetic that achieves its subversive tone is the sound design. The sound design will plague your ears while you safely drift into a gentle slumber, only to be awakened by a heady montage of wicked torture intertwined with bellicose dancing dictating a secret passage to something scathingly horrifying. And it is quite a mesmerizing feat because Guadagnino’s care and passion is revealed in every crevice of his film. He took a bold stance and went beyond the confines of the original cultivating a story that brought more depth and ingenuity than any other kind of remake I’ve ever seen. Step aside HEREDITARY, and possibly MANDY, SUSPIRIA is THE horror film of 2018.