Christopher Maher: Suspiria is a remake of a 1977 film that I have never seen. As far as I know it’s a wonky but mostly straight forward horror (again, as far as I know). 2018’s Suspiria is… not that.
Samuel Russell: Though it was long ago (my freshman year of film school back in 2012ish) I have seen the original film. The Dario Argento Suspiria is certainly not what I would call “straight forward horror.” It is an object of exuberant style and atmosphere, thin on plot, with a haunting heavy metal score by Goblin, and insane psychedelic lighting. Luca Guadagnino’s take is, in my opinion, the perfect approach to adaptation. It takes the broad concept and intention of the original and does something wildly different with it. He keeps the forefronting of atmosphere and style, without trying to recreate the atmosphere and style of the Argento’s.
CM: A quick recap: It’s autumn in 1977 Berlin. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) secures her place at the Markos dance company to study under Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). The company is still reeling from the disappearance of lead dancer Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who, before disappearing, told her psycitrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton) that she suspects the women who run the company are actually witches.
I’d call the film both beautiful and intentionally messy, and because those two things are placed next to each other so frequently within the film there’s a lot of spots we could begin to dive into. The beautiful and brutal first dance Susie performs intercuts with a body being mangled. Preparing a different dance Madame Blanc says the piece will be about rebirth – both the push against it and its inevitability. That seems a good place to start. Sam?
SR: I’m gonna be real with you Chris, I did not watch a lot of that first dance/torture scene. That was fucked up, and made me nauseous. Though it was masterfully shot, choreographed, edited, and sound designed- I missed most of it because my basic human urge to not see a human body twisted into a pretzel got the better of me.
I do think the really amazing formal elements were what I enjoyed most about this movie. Liza (past blog contributor and my partner) saw this ahead of me and sang the praises of this film’s sound, so I went in listening carefully. I was not disappointed. In the dance sequences impact of bodies hitting the floor, and the ghostly sound of breathing, is as important as the music.
CM: Definitely. I thought a lot about Wagner while watching this movie (appropriate given Suspiria’s setting). A musician friend once explained to me Wagner valued opera over other mediums because it combined all other types of art: music, voice, drama, sets, body, movement, etc. I’m not sure how apocryphal that is/how much my memory is playing tricks on me (I can’t find a quote supporting it) but the same thing could be said of Suspiria. Movies always incorporate a lot of those same elements – they have music, and sound, and image, and dramatics. Suspiria adds dance into the mix in a serious way, and while most films have scores this movie has songs, both diegetically and by virtue of having Thom Yorke do music. It’s not that one is better than the other (scores v. songs) but songs certainly bring more attention to themselves. It makes sense in the sense of rebirth and acts of creation. Even the mere fact that this is an adaptation of an earlier film feels significant. So much of the film is about the labor of creation, and allowing the past to flow through you into the present.
SR: Yeah, it’s interesting what you say about songs calling more attention to themselves. Guadagnino did the same thing in Call Me By Your Name with Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens. It’s an awkward device in movies, I think, because it usually has the aftertaste of corporate synergy, like Pharrell writing “Happy” for Despicable Me 2, or any song that’s been nominated for “Best Original Song” at the Oscars. Guadagnino worked through and past that bad association in Call Me By Your Name. The 80s synth pop fit the film’s period, and felt it like a song a heartbroken teen would cry to. The final shot has the audience wallow with Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and hang on Sufjan’s every word. Suspirium fits the tone of Suspiria, but it doesn’t jive quite as well as “Mystery of Love” does with it’s film. It sounds like a modern song in a film that otherwise totally immerses you in it’s period.
CM: I guess the music felt a little too modern, though I’ve read various places it is inspired by the period. Still, so much of the film called attention to itself. Even the cinematography felt jagged, as if the camera was on rails or a crane but they were unsteady and lurching. It fit with the messiness of the film as a whole, and again drew attention to the act of “creation.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call Suspiria a film about filmmaking, but it shares some common themes with those sort of movies. It’s about the weight of the past, and how birth or rebirth is brutal but also an active brutality, not a passive one.
I give Suspiria 7.5 exploding heads out of 10 spooky flesh hooks.
SR: Overall I thought it was a pretty wild movie. There was so much that I loved about it, and there is so much that I know I missed. I look forward to watching it again at some point (though I probably will still close my eyes during that dance scene.)
I give Suspiria 8 Tildas out of 10 Swintons.
- CM: Everyone should go read this New Yorker article about Luca Guadagnino. It is very funny.
- CM: We didn’t really have a chance to talk about the plot, and particularly the second Swinton character. Is he absolved at the end? Freed? Or punished? What does that final shot mean? Maybe we’ll have to talk about it in more detail later.