Review: ‘Suspiria’ paints an apocalyptic picture of current politics

Luca Guadagnino’s “Supiria” is not for everyone. With six chapters and an epilogue, the film is overlong, non-linear and allegorical. (Elena Ringo / Creative Commons)

The art house horror film is back with a vengeance. Suspiria” is the newest entry in 2018’s trend of artistic gore, from A24’s satanic “Hereditary” to the neo-noir slasher “Mandy.”

“Suspiria,” is a drastic cinematic shift for director Luca Guadagnino, best known for “Call Me By Your Name” and other subtle character studies. Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is more of an adaptation than a remake of the 1977 Italian “Suspiria,” directed by acclaimed horror auteur Dario Argento.

Guadagnino’s reimagining of “Suspiria” contradicts the campy horror of the original. The new “Suspiria” is an hour longer and utilizes an original Thom Yorke soundtrack rather than the former, melodramatic theme. It also disregards the neon aesthetic of the original film for dismal grey and red coloring to emphasize the dilapidated setting of post-World War II Berlin.

The plot remains the same: a young dancer from Ohio moves to post-war Berlin to join a prestigious dance company, haunted by a series of murders. The new “Suspiria” immediately informs the audience that the company is run by a coven of witches, rather than keeping this supernatural element under wraps like the Italian cult classic. Greater and extremely convoluted plot elements lie in Guadagnino’s epic.

Guadagnino’s “Supiria” is not for everyone. With six chapters and an epilogue, the film is overlong, non-linear and allegorical. The film uses its well-developed time period to diverge from a clear plot and meditate on the consequences of the Holocaust and World War II.

These ruminations feel particularly timely in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting and the apparent increase of hateful rhetoric and violence in the United States. The casting of Dakota Johnson, known for blockbusters such as the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, as incoming dancer Suzy Bannion could be seen as an attempt to lure mainstream audiences into the theatre to open their eyes to today’s tragedies.

The film ends in current day Berlin, further connecting the consequences of the past to the results of the present. Although not all viewers will understand this political intention, most will relate to the overall feeling of disillusionment present in the film.

The dreary, post-war setting and genocidal death of most of the witches in “Suspiria” hints at an apocalyptic end, in that humans have ruined this world and do not deserve to live.

Audiences clearly respond and relate to this “end of days” theme.

The previously mentioned film, “Mandy,” uses a post-apocalyptic environment to analyze misogyny in religious communities that leads to the demise of all characters. This summer’s surprise hit “Hereditary” results in a ritual that brings one of the kings of Hell into the terrestrial plane. “Hereditary” was independent entertainment company A24’s highest grossing film, with a total domestic gross of over $44 million.

The newest season of American Horror Story, titled “Apocalypse,” involves a coven of witches at the end of days. A television show that thrives on the literalization of society’s greatest fears, such as last year’s “Cult” saga — this increase in apocalyptic media is no coincidence.

“Suspiria” also raises awareness of sexism, as the coven exhibits justice to men who wrong women. In one scene, the witches strip a policeman of his clothes and mock him. The women point at the genitalia with a curved weapon, inches away from slicing off his manhood and metaphorically depriving this man of his power over them.

Although “Suspiria” succeeds in raising social justice awareness, its lack of clarity prevents the film from having an even greater emotional impact on the viewer. The audience doesn’t care about any of the characters, as they lack two-dimensionality and clear motivation. Furthermore, the Thom Yorke soundtrack jars the viewer out of the experience, as the pop nature of the songs contradict the time period and macabre environment.

“Suspiria” feeds the public what it wants: a gory, ominous feast for the eyeballs. While all viewers may not enjoy the lack of plot explanation or the overall sense of despair one feels when leaving the theatre, “Suspiria” is a cruel reminder that society can never escape its history, as it always comes back to haunt us. And who knows if we’ll survive.


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