You may — or may not — have noticed that for all the Argento films I’ve reviewed, I’ve never spoken about 1977’s Suspiria. This supernatural horror — not giallo — movie is hard for me to write about because it’s above reproach. It is, as I’ve mentioned about other films, an absolute movie, one whose kaleidoscopic and sonic assault — courtesy of Goblin — blast you from the moment the film begins. I can’t really say anything new or add anything that hasn’t been said and I doubt anyone wants to read me gushing about the colors or murders in the film ad nauseam. If you haven’t seen it, do so. Please watch it instead of this movie.
That’s the hardest part of this article. I am predisposed to hate this movie. And I’ve tried to be objective and open-minded, because in the past, I’ve hated movies before I even had the chance to watch them. I didn’t want this to be the case. I wanted to not be taken in by the hype or other reviews and watch this on its own merits. But I’ll be honest: it really has none. If it were a movie by any other name, no one would care about it.
Life is short and there isn’t enough time to tell people how much you love them or to enjoy all the magical art and fun there is in the world, so wasting two hours and thirty-two minutes on this meandering slop has me a little peeved. And that’s when I remember the indulgent reviews and the top movies of the year list that this topped. Have the standards for what makes a great movie really slipped so much in the last decade or two? Of course, they have. That’s a rhetorical question.
Now, I could raise issues like the fact that at no time did I know or care about the characters and their motivations, but in truth, the original has the same problems. It’s kind of patently ridiculous to complain about narrative structure when you’re discussing a film inspired by Argento.
Maybe I never danced. Maybe I don’t speak enough German. Or French. Maybe I don’t appreciate winter colors. These are the questions that, well, pirouetted through my head as I endured this movie. It had that dreaded moment where I paused the film, sure that this had to be the conclusion of the proceedings, only to discover I still had fifty-one minutes of pain left, minutes that would feel like the hand on the stove versus the time spent with a beautiful woman.
Let me see if I can summarize this: Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, who has darkened my screen way too many times recently and yet I give her chance after chance, perhaps because her dad was the voice of Chuckles in GI Joe: The Movie and her mom was both Cherry 2000 and Holly Body) is a Mennonite from Ohio who gets into the Markos Dance Academy in West Berlin. The school is still recovering from the loss of another student, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) who disappeared after she told her therapist Josef Klemperer that all of her teachers are witches.
Just a moment here to let you know that Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc, Mother Helena Markos and Dr. Josef Klemperer (which she is credited for as Lutz Ebersdorf, with Eber meaning boar/swine and dorf meaning town, hence the last name is Swinton). You won’t be snowed by this stunt casting. In fact, you’ll notice it and keep wondering about it and it will make you escape the flimsy plot and wonder when you can put another movie in your blu ray player. It’s amazing to see Swinton in what manages to be an Eddie Murphy role, ala Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, where you keep saying, “Look, there she is. She’s in a man costume. Now she’s herself. Now she’s an old woman! Wow!” Except you don’t really say wow. There’s no moment that I uttered those three letters and I had plenty of running time to get them out of my mouth.
The truth is that the Three Mothers — Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mother Suspiriorum — are running things. Susie will be their instrument of taking out others, like Olga, who is basically turned inside out by dance. Supposedly this scene upset people so badly that they left. I have no idea why. I mean, it’s certainly gross, but nothing that blew my mind as was promised.
Also: why is there so much pee in this movie?
The witches all have an argument about who is in charge and decide that Mother Markos, an ancient crone who has controlled the coven for as long as anyone can remember, will remain in control and get a new body. All of the witches taunt a cop who comes to investigate and also have knives that look like rib bones.
All sorts of exploration — by another student named Sara — leads to her leg being broken and her switching eyes with Susie, then they all dance this performance called Volk. Sara dances robotically, controlled by the slowly giving in to evil person who we’ve been led to believe is our heroine. The dancing nearly kills everyone, because like fashion, dance is danger. As Klemperer escapes the performance, he meets up with his wife (original star Jessica Harper) who he thought long dead. In truth, she leads him back to the school.
I have no idea how to put together the end of all this, but damn, I’m gonna try. Susie renounces her mother, who dies somewhere in Ohio, just as that old woman — who has been on her deathbed for the entire movie — mentions that her daughter is the stain that she let loose on the world. That’s because everyone else is a false mother and Susie really is Mother Suspiriorum. Nearly everyone dies by being danced to death. There’s also so much red light in this scene that it becomes difficult to watch. This aspires to high art, one assumes. I could also be totally off and there’s some intricate meaning that I haven’t grasp, but I also compared this movie to an Eddie Murphy fart movie a few paragraphs ago.
Somehow, Blanc and Klemperer survive. Then, Susie comes to his bedside and explains how his wife died in a concentration camp before erasing his memories. Actually, I had no idea that that was what happened and Wikipedia was my friend, so there you go.
After the credits, Susie breaks the wall of reality and erases the audience’s memories, which is an awesome idea, because then they can forget the sheer boring snail race that they just crawled through. Sadly, I shut the movie off before this happened so I will have to always live with the Bataan Death March-like pain of this inept piece of offal.
Other than that, Mr. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?
Thanks for asking.
Before Luca Guadagnino directed this, David Gordon Green was attached, in his bid to ruin every auteur horror film that I have ever loved. He had to settle for last year’s Halloween, another movie I hope I never have to see ever again. Then again, seeing as how my wife just bought the DVD, all hope is gone.
I also have no idea what the Red Army Faction and Lufthansa Flight 181 subplot had to do with any of this. Maybe I’m on the side of Richard Brody from the New Yorker, who said that this movie “…has nothing to say about women’s history, feminist politics, civil violence, the Holocaust, the Cold War, or German culture. Instead, Guadagnino thrusts some thusly labeled trinkets at viewers and suggests that they try to assemble them. The result is sordid, flimsy Holocaust kitsch, fanatical chic, with all the actual political substance of a designer Che T-shirt.”
Suspiria desperately wants to be about something, anything, to appear to be a movie that matters. It is, to use that hoary old chestnut, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. As much as I like Radiohead, that sound here is blah. As much as I like drone, it doesn’t work here, as the soundtrack is bleats and blips against a grey canvas that does not inspire.
It might be about women. It might be about 1977. It might be about witches. But ultimately, it is a film about nothing. It has convinced some of the filmgoing public that it has deep and meaningful things to say. I’ve always seen the original as a haunted house on film — a bewildering odyssey into colors, noise and terror. It ends just like a real-life scarehouse — Jessica Harper’s Suzy is running away from the burning school, a smile on her face, breathlessly alive despite all she has witnessed. It’s the exhilarating thrill of someone working as hard as they can to scare you and the release that comes from that. None of those feelings were conjured here. The only one I received was relief that I could finally turn this off as the credits ran.
Plus, there’s also the issue of the film being sued for copyright infringement by the estate of artist Ana Mendieta, with a total of ten images being mentioned as direct lifts of the artist’s work. A settlement has been reached, but I guess true art still steals?
Guadagnino has mentioned making prequels and sequels to this film. There are no films I look forward to watching less, unless someone forces me to watch this again.