Published Oct 22, 2018Suspiria has all the signifiers of a "Serious Art Film": a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, seven acts broken up by title cards, often-subtitled dialogue that spans three languages, and a mournful score by Radiohead's Thom Yorke. This pretentiousness is the most charming thing about this otherwise silly, overly ambitious mess.
Coming as a remake of Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic, the film is set in Cold War-era Berlin, where an American named Susie (Dakota Johnson) lands a spot in a prestigious West German dance company. All of the dancers live and work in a creepy old academy, which gives Suspiria the gothic claustrophobia of a haunted house flick. The constant rain adds to the grim, oppressive atmosphere.
Things immediately turn surreal: Susie's predecessor, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), suffers from apparent paranoid delusions, and the dancers repeatedly go missing or collapse, foaming at the mouth.
It's nearly a compelling mystery, but director Luca Guadagnino ignores both plot and character development in favour of nonsensical fever dreams, modern dance sequences, and surreal montages that basically amount to Thom Yorke music videos. The score is absolutely beautiful, so the slow pace can be at least partially forgiven. Still, it's a shame that more time wasn't devoted to expanding Susie's non-existent personality. After more than two hours, intrigue mostly gives way to boredom.
The women who run the academy, including renowned choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), operate some sort of a supernatural coven, and this becomes a catch-all explanation for the insane shit going on. Random hysterics and people getting mutilated by the power of dance? It's those pesky witches again!
Towards the end, right around the point a horror movie should theoretically be getting scary, the absurdity gets cranked up a notch, and Suspiria turns into a pulpy gore-fest. It's wacky and entertaining in a Grindhouse sort of way. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there's a heartbreaking scene involving Holocaust grief — a truly bizarre tonal shift amid all of the exploding heads and demonic beasts.
And that, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with Suspiria. It's a horror film that's too ridiculous to be scary, an outrageous bloodbath that's too dour to be fun, and an examination of post-war turmoil that's too shallow to be affecting. It is a pretty good Thom Yorke music video, though.