April 19, 2019

Suspiria Baffles and Terrifies in Equal Measure

“It makes sense that Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino’s sleek-yet-deranged reinterpretation of Dario Argento’s landmark giallo horror, is hitting American cinema screens on 26 October, five days before Halloween. Scary movies of any commercial stripe benefit from seasonal timing; unless you’re a buff of the genre, to watch David Gordon Green’s Halloween sequel, for example, on 1 November would have the slightly tepid, hungover feeling of hearing Christmas carols on Boxing Day.

Even before the big day, however, some Halloween revellers queueing up for Suspiria will leave the cinema with their spooky spirits a little deflated, a little less buzzed than the promise of Dakota Johnson being terrorised by dancing witches in wintry Berlin may have led them to expect. Some will turn to each other and repeat the three simple words my elderly Italian seat neighbor said to me – or perhaps to the room in general – as the credits rolled on the film’s screening at the Venice film festival back in balmy late summer: “What was that?”

To be clear, I come to praise Suspiria, not bury it. In a genre overrun with workmanlike-or-worse remakes, revivals, reboots and retcons of classic horror properties, Guadagnino’s slow-and-loose spin on Argento’s original comes about as close as it can to being an original itself. Breaking the back of Argento’s narrative and splaying its limbs in disorienting, counterintuitive directions – rather like the fate that uncannily befalls a young dancer in the film’s most dazzling set piece – it fashions a piece of occult exploitation into a more oblique, extended, sensuous study of bodily stress, submission and control, forging connections to everything from the Holocaust to the Red Army Gang in its unpicking of feminine identity and oppression.”

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