Two good friends talked me into seeing this cinematic nightmare. I still consider them friends.
Suspiria is a convoluted, artistic cinematic mess that isn’t helped by a length of over two and one-half hours. A remake of Dario Argento’s original 1977 horror film loved by many, it is so dysfunctional as to be beyond meaningful description.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, who previously brought us last year’s Call Me by Your Name, he doesn’t seem to remotely care that he is making a film beyond any semblance of entertaining value. As noted above, two friends of mine, brothers with eccentric taste, talked me into accompanying them to a film that I would have otherwise missed. Then again, given that their multiple interests frequently exceed mine, I finally decided “What in the hell did I have to lose?”
Well, to begin with, it was the $10 price of a weekend admission. As we sat in a largely empty theatre I was hoping that my southern Indiana upbringing would be challenged by a nasty, artistic film that at its heart is a horror story.
Nonetheless, the film slowly went nowhere. Dakota Johnson plays Susy Bannion, a U.S. citizen from Ohio who joins a ballet school in Germany in 1977. Before she even enrolls, the beginning of the film focuses on a dance student (Chloë Grace Moretz) who flees the school to seek guidance from an aging male psychiatrist played by Tilda Swinton, one of her four roles in this largely forgettable movie. As she warns her psychiatrist that her life is in danger from a dance studio surrounded by witches, he investigates her disappearance to try to figure out what is going on behind the studio’s closed doors.
In the process, you see Ms. Johnson’s Suzy being selected to be the lead dancer by Madam Blanc (Tilda Swinton in another role), and the movie proceeds to drift on and on and on. Put another way, if you were told that you were going to die in two and a half hours, you would want this film to be played in your hospital room to make it seem like you would live for an eternity.
While many critics have tried to find meaning with this movie, I am not one of them. It turns out that witches are running this dance company and they have designs on Johnson’s Ms. Bannion to evolve to where an aging matron (also played by Ms. Swinton) is able to occupy her body. And that, my dear friends, is all you need to know about this cinematic concoction.
Let me end with two observations about Suspiria. Number one, it isn’t helped by its convoluted concentration on life in Berlin in the 1970s where Germans still wrestle with guilt following World War II while also focusing on a group of Palestinians who have taken over a plane at the airport to try and gain the release of terrorists held in a German prison. However, the most rewarding moments of this film come from the dance classes where Ms. Bannion takes center stage.
Those dance scenes are captivating, and wait until you see the consequences of a scene where Ms. Bannion dances where Sarah (Mina Goth), her predecessor, is isolated in a basement room surrounded by mirrors. Every move made by Ms. Bannion serves as a brutal physical infliction on Sarah and in the process her arms and legs are twisted around her body to the point where she suffers a vicious death. Thereafter, the instructors/witches move her body with pointed thorns and you are left thinking, “That was the most fascinating moment in a movie that I would otherwise like to forget.”