When Luca Guadagnino’s reboot of the Giallo classic was released it followed a number of recent powerful revisionist horror films that have changed the genre. Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, and Ari Aster’s Hereditary are all recent signs that horror is in an upswing in popularity and quality. These films are raw and emotional and flat-out great. Suspiria proudly makes this recent group of ‘art-house’ horror even better. Horror is good again.
Cinema is so effective in stirring up emotions and feelings and putting them on the screen. This year has seen a slew of films that make you feel and certainly stir up a discussion. Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Paddington 2 made us feel happy and whole, even if only for a couple of hours. Those two films are pure comfort and remind us that good can exist in the world. They attempt to get us through these dark times with at least some of our humanity intact, but there is an antithesis to these comfort films: films that open up our deepest fears and worries.
Horror seems to follow this trend a lot. 1968 saw films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary’s Baby, and Night of the Living Dead in the midst of the Vietnam War. Fifty years later, the world seems to be in no better shape. Cinema’s response: some of the most subversive and rich horror films to be released in years. Enter 2018’s masterpiece Suspiria, one of the most grueling and unnerving events I have seen on screen that I can remember. Tension, dread, and misery thrive in the world created. With a masterful score, choreography, and totally engrossing tone and mood, Suspiria is a film that may be the best horror film this decade.
First, I want to put away any discussions about comparing the 1977 film and this. These are two different beasts. It feels wrong to compare these in any way. They operate in the world of horror in such different ways they only really share the premise and names.
As the film opens, we are thrown into a world filled to the brim with tension and anxiety. Cold War Berlin is the perfect setting for a film where dread and terror seem to bubble right below the surface. The whole world is waiting to blow; it just takes a spark. Cold War Berlin is a world that Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich take full advantage of. From hostage situations deteriorating on TV news stations, to the looming wall that seems to sneak up like a big ugly grey beast, to even the strange matter of fact transitions from East to West. Like the world it exists in, The Helena Markos Dance Academy bulges with terror and mayhem; it could crawl out from any dark crevice.
The soundtrack blends effectively with the grim grey world it populates. It is techno, yet classical, and rides a tense line that makes you question the next beat. It is unsettling, to say the least, but not much about this film isn’t unsettling. Everything exists to make you uncomfortable and scared.
Tilda Swinton controls the screen, which shouldn’t be a surprise, given her resumé. Her performance is haunting and memorable. She plays Madame Blanch is such a way that we aren’t clear how to feel about her. We fear her, but still, we care about her. Maybe it is just Swinton’s skill and excellence, but the character and writing certainly elevate it. So much of the film tries, and succeeds, in pulling the viewer in. From the choreography to Thom Yorke’s soundtrack, so many things in the film are alluring and dreadful at the same time. A deft tension runs through the core of this film that keeps you on the edge for all of its almost three-hour runtime.
Leaving Suspiria, there are certainly haunting moments and awfulness in the film that lie deep at its core, and I hope you will go to see the film for yourself to experience the shock and horror, but the unsettling and abstract nature of its ending is where I would like to end. In a film that so straightly tells us there is no escape, where the obsessions and lust will have no end, Suspiria still managed to leave me with a freckle of hope. If even in the most abstract way, I found that Suspiria is not a film of pure gore and violence without a point or just a film with no meaning or message. There is certainly terror and harm, but at a cost for those who inflict it, and in my own twisted way I left Suspiria thinking there is still some hope in the world, if only because… well… go see it for yourself.
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