I keep writing this and deleting this because it keeps sounding like I’m describing a nightmare rather than a movie. Which actually should tell you a lot about how much I enjoyed this film.
Suspiria is MEANT to be confrontational. It’s so emotionally and visually confronting I was simply overwhelmed, and got out my ironing board in order to deal. With a buffer of a white denim jacket and a bunch of iron-on patches (including a little gremlin named Gizmo, Wonder Woman, and IT’s Pennywise), I did my best to brave the onslaught.
Susie (Dakota Johnson) is an untrained dancer who arrives in Berlin hoping to be admitted to a venerated dance company run by the fearsome Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Many scoff at her ambition (conceit?), but her audition dazzles the evaluators and just her luck – there’s a spot that’s opened up. Actually, that spot belonged to Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), who we saw crack up during the film’s opening scenes. She was paranoid, disturbed, certain that the academy was targeting her for some nefarious thing. And now she’s MIA.
And the thing is, something IS seriously afoot at the dance company. It seems to be a front for witchcraft; the instructors belong to a coven and the dancers are new recruits – either possible witches, or possible victims. Suspicion is met with violence, and the movie LOVES violence, embraces every and any excuse. Even the dance itself feels aggressive, but the gore is second to none. The narrative takes a back seat to the dedicated and repeated brutality, so you can either get in step with the stylized lunacy, or avoid it altogether. Attempting to fight your way through it is probably only going to result in a frustrating and disappointing (not to mention disgusting) cinematic experience.
Do I admire director Luca Guadagnino for swinging so big? Sure. But I don’t have to like it. I was oddly excited for this film because I tend to like a cinematic risk, but Suspiria (2018 edition) proved to be a test of my endurance, and beyond the limits of my patience. To be honest, I was half-lost just by the casting of Dakota Johnson alone. I realize her acting “pedigree” may impress some, but her parents (Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) aren’t known for being good in things so much as just for being in them. They’re famous, but not exactly lauded. And despite her celebrity parents, Dakota Johnson has still had to break her way in by getting naked (Fifty Shades of Indignity: the series) and has yet to make an impression on me as someone worth watching. Her blandness and blankness may have somewhat been the point in this, but I just don’t find her remotely compelling and I could equally be watching a rock or a potato or the space above her left shoulder and it would all shake out to about the same. Tilda Swinton is of course made for movies such as these, but she gets not one but 3 roles, and at least one of them is trash. Yes, makeup can do marvelous things. But even when Tilda Swinton is made up to look like an elderly man, it was still very obviously Tilda Swinton made up to look like an elderly man.
Did I enjoy Suspria? I did not. I think there’s some trick to melting into a movie like this, but to be honest, we struggled so much just to find the German to English captions, finding the trick and using the trick was clearly beyond us.