A masterpiece mix of Rosemary’s Baby meets Black Swan. Suspiria is a disturbing, shocking, and thoroughly engrossing psychological horror. Yes, it holds a few flaws but ultimately, this is modern cinema at its finest.
The story is set towards the tail of the Cold War in 1977 Berlin. We follow the journey of a young American dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who is accepted into the prestigious but mysterious Markos Dance Academy. Strange occurrences begin to occur, and Susie soon finds herself among company that’s of a different kind. Hint: this is not a film for kids.
The most enjoyable factor for me was the suspense, as subtly indicated within the name of the film. A large part of this comes from the story and its incredibly developed mythology teased out an array of harrowing concepts over time. Every time a new detail was shed, the more intrigued I became and the suspense of what could linger in the future was added.
I also loved how the film structures complemented the build-up in sense over time. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, the story was divided up into chapters and each added to this looming dreaded feeling for next part of the story. Think Paranormal Activity and how each new night brought about something worse than the one before.
The other parts that I thought were great to build suspense were the direction and performances.
Director Luca Guadagnino did a great job in breaking up these segments and teasing out important details to solidify the suspense. One of my favourite features was his use of the zoom on particular objects or faces. Apart from adding obvious focus to details important to the story, they were often employed before moments of dread and in turn made these scenes interesting to watch.
Normally directors would cut to a close-up but to me, Guadagnino’s choice of the zoom is far more interesting from a visual standpoint. Most of the zooms were done slowly, forcing me to gradually ascertain what important detail is being put forward.
It reminded me of Yorgos Lanthimos’ works (another great director, see our Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer reviews) as he also forces in this feeling of suspense from a zoom compared to a quick cut of a close-up. The latter style speeds up the information transfer process and doesn’t allow momentary confusion while I figure things out. Great in action pieces to hide the cheated punches; less in suspenseful horrors where you want to slowly tease out details and build up suspense (unless of course horror films want to use jump scares).
Interestingly, Guadagnino’s other works Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love which are dramatic films that are very different from Suspiria. Both of those are great films but I was still (pleasantly) surprised to see Guadagnino handle himself quite well in a horror genre.
Performances wise, Dakota Johnson was fine as Susie Bannion but it was Tilda Swinton who blew me away with her two roles; one of which I didn’t even realise she acted for it until looking up the cast credits. I don’t want to give this part away because I think the experience of picking this up later will make you smile but think Gary Oldman level of transformation. Suffice to say, she was simply incredible.
Apart from being a linguistic master, there are so many subtleties in her performance that really does confirm her as my favourite actress to watch. In Suspiria she plays a dance director with great commanding body movements but also real earnest in her eyes. She can give a lot away about her character simply through the way she stares at you and I found it fantastic to watch.
My only gripes with Suspiria are with subplots that could have been cut because they didn’t add anything to the story or weren’t addressed later.
Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with the RAF (if you watch the film you’ll know what I mean) that kept getting raised but never had a payoff. I’m trying to grasp its relevance to the themes of the film, but I still don’t know what its point was. There’s also one character with glasses (again you’ll know who I mean) who I felt was important to the story but was never addressed by the end of the film. Once again, I’m not sure what her role was and I’m of the mind that this subplot could have been cut.
I also have a slight issue with the way the finale played out which came across as comical in parts even though that the exact opposite of its intention. After a while it became kind of ridiculous and in my opinion, it could have been presented differently to make it feel more harrowing. I can’t say exactly why it came across as comical without giving anything, but this is more of a minor issue compared to the almost pointless subplots.
Overall Suspiria is an incredibly well-made film and I had a blast watching it. I’m thoroughly recommending this to those that enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby and Black Swan because Suspiria feels like a mix of the two. Otherwise, if you like suspenseful psychological horrors in general, then this will still be right up your alley.
Be warned, it is quite long. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 32 minutes but thankfully I didn’t feel the film ever drag on because there’s a lot of intriguing suspense going on (even with the pointless subplots). This is a film that had enough for me to take away from one sitting but also made me more curious to read up on later (though I probably won’t be watching it again because I’m happy with what I got the first time).
I’m predicting this to be an early contender for Best Adapted Screenplay at next year’s Oscar’s as it’s based on the 1977 original of the same name. But until then, see the 2018 version when you can.
I forgot to add that the music is also composed by Thom Yorke, lead single and lyricist of Radiohead. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better right?