The Big Ship Recommends: SUSPIRIA (2018)
It is difficult to tell if the Suspiria remake is about anything other than an excuse for provocative craft. Which is pretty fucking cool.
“Upon release, the film received mixed critical reception.”
It’s a phrase all scholars of great, boundary-teasing cinema are used to, and one that with his new Giallo “homage”, Luca Guadagnino has firmly aligned himself with.
The ingredients for a “divisive” work are all there: Suspiria is auteur-driven, propelled to its bloody, perverted depths by bold choices that are cooked the whole way through and point in the same spiritually absurd direction. Guadagnino cements his war-tone strokes in an environment of division – the kind that begins internally and fractals outward to his beautifully beige rendition of late 70’s Berlin – and examines the possibility it reveals for empowerment. He pokes around in the meaning of the word “witch” (an exploration reinforced by an almost entirely female cast), asking why we might find such a matriarchy so threatening before showing us exactly why we should.
And yet, when viewed with wide eyes and jaw as bones crunch and blood falls, it is difficult to tell if the Suspiria remake is about anything other than an excuse for high provocative craft… which is pretty fucking wonderful, actually.
All that is supernaturally scary and conspiring takes a backseat to the political, abstractly philosophical and perhaps most surprisingly of all, the melancholic. Thom Yorke’s key-tickling score and sweeping voice play to a sadder tone in a film that surprises with its sense of longing: for a mother, for a lover, for an ineffable something more. Reminiscent (in many ways upon reflection) of last year’s Blade Runner 2049, Suspiria seems to exchange “meaning” for mood and tone and one that, in the full spirit of Argento’s gaudy original, is transpired through sensory assault.
Every attempt that Guadagnino makes to ground his metaphysical musings in foot-planted, brittle-bodied physicality succeeds. When a character is wounded the damage is true and brutal and groaning; when Johnson (who demands a powerful screen performance opposite the ever masterful Swinton) throws her arms in ritualistic dance, it’s as if her soul is tethered to her fingers, projected through her movement; and though psychedelic, Tarkovskian dreams plague the protagonist –they are often of the corporeal, rotting and beaten. To Argento’s demented carnival, you submitted; to Guadagnino’s mind-body closing, you welcome with open arms.
The fact of the matter is that you feel Suspiria. It exists in that almighty textural domain where it is in an end in itself – a fantastic film whether analysed or not.