Suspiria

500 Days Of Film Reviews Suspiria Starring Tilda Swinton And Dakota Johnson

A mysterious darkness lurks at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf artistic director, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), an ambitious young dancer, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

Is It Any Good?

One of the joys of horror cinema lies in watching a scary movie with a full (and respectful) audience. Horror is a wonderfully communal experience. There really are few things better (movie-wise) than sharing jumps and jolts, shocks and scares with a group of like-minded viewers.

 

One of my favourite examples of this came in 2017, during an Odeon Screen Unseen viewing of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The audience were fully invested in the film and their reactions added so much to its atmosphere. As a result, it was a truly special cinema experience. Little wonder, then, that Get Out became my favourite film of that year.

 

I was, therefore, really (really) looking forward to watching Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (inspired, of course, by the 1977 Dario Argento classic) at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (LFF). While I didn’t take my seat expecting another Get Out, I felt certain I would find an excited and engaged horror-loving audience.

 

However, a sense of communal excitment was largely absent at this LFF screening. My audience remained respectfully silent and remarkably still throughout this (two hour 31 minute) film - apart from a few walk-outs here and there, more of which later. 

 

The reason for this muted response?

 

Well, Suspiria is seriously lacking in fun and, to be honest, scares. Instead, Guadagnino’s film is, for the most part, a stylish, challenging and intellectually weighty arthouse horror.

 

 

Thanks to Guadagnino’s powerful vision, a superb performance from Tilda Swinton (well, several superb performances in fact - and I was still left wanting more) and a brilliantly physical portrayal from Dakota Johnson, Suspiria is an impressive and effective horror film.

 

Every scene reminds us of Guadagnino’s passion for his project. The director presents his audience with one beautifully composed shot after another - only occasionally interrupting the film’s languorous pace to confront us with a shocking image or a violent and visceral dance sequence (the movie’s choreography is stunning).  

 

There is so much to admire in Suspiria. However, I did leave the cinema with some reservations. Guadagnino’s film did not entirely work for me. For example, I wish Suspira had been scarier. The potential is certainly there - particularly in a series of nightmarish montages.

 

In addition, Guadagnino is not afraid to get nasty. There are a few wincingly brutal scenes (including a rather sickening development early on in the film that prompted a flurry of walk-outs in my screening). However, Guadagnino doesn't exploit this potential. Suspiria’s atmosphere is - until its overwrought final act - a little too reserved, a little too removed. 

 

 

Guadagnino has important themes to convey in Suspiria and it is, perhaps, the weight of these issues that prevents the film from truly taking flight. For example, the story explores the rising power of women, as well as shame, jealousy and guilt (both familial and historical - fitting for a film set in 1970s Berlin). 

 

Suspiria also challenges the “male” gaze. This is a deeply sensual movie but the largely female cast are never viewed as sexual objects. Instead, Guadagnino has some fun deconstructing the male gaze. For example, the sole male witness to the dance school’s dark secrets is not who he seems.

 

One thing is certain, Suspiria will not be for all tastes. However, this is, for me, a truly impressive film. A powerful cinematic experience with style to spare and an equal amount of exquisitely timed substance.

 

Random Observations

Have you seen Suspiria?

 

If you have, what did you think of this film? Let me know in the comments section below or via Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.

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