Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: SUSPIRIA: Visually Striking, but Shallow [LFF 2018]

Dakota Johnson Suspiria

LFF 2018 Suspiria Review

Suspiria (2018) Film Review from the 62nd Annual London Film Festival, a movie directed by Luca Guadagnino, starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renee Soutendijk and Christine LeBoutte. 

   It is rather undeniable that it took a lot of hard work to make Suspiria. Director Luca Guadagnino puts together many carefully and boldly edited sequences. The musical score will freak you out. The camera work is striking. The choreography of the dancers is impressive to say the least.

   Every trick in the book is used to put the audience under the supposedly horrifying spell of this story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in the way the best horror films do. When the credits roll, viewers might end up being entertained, amused, bewildered, disgusted and in a handful of other bizarre states of mind. To assume that someone would be horrified after these consistently over-the-top two and a half hours is a bit of a stretch.

Lengthy, Intriguing, Shallow and Pointless

   Suspiria works much better as a slasher, rather than a psychological horror. There is a lot of physical violence but barely anything manages to crack the surface and go deep. It all looks fascinating and admittedly, it is fun. The runtime is long but there is just so much on the screen – dancing, insane dreams, ridiculous moments, stomach-churning images, etc. that getting bored isn’t an option. In its craziest and wildest moments, Suspiria even manages to become hypnotic. Ultimately however, the whole experience ends up being shallow and amounts to nothing more than some exotic entertainment.

   The film’s story is based on the motion picture of the same name from 1977. The plot follows Susie, an aspiring dancer who is accepted into a dancing school in Berlin, where all sorts of idiosyncrasies and creepy events are happening. Tilda Swinton as the enigmatic teacher and Mia Goth as the protagonist’s best friend live up to the script’s absolute insanity. Their performances strongly contribute to the crazy atmosphere of the film, whatever that is. It is difficult to define the overall feeling that the film provides the viewer with. Is it fear? Is it comedy? Is it a feeling of constant unease formed by the last gruesome image and the expectation of the next one? None of these have much in common with each other and weirdly enough, they are all very noticeably present.

Impressive Performances and Training from the Main Actresses

   Dakota Johnson doesn’t get to show much range in the film. For the most part, Susie is a quiet, confident, inspired and fully devoted to her art, which is not a particularly challenging task for Johnson. Even when the chips are down and the final showdown is happening, her acting skills are not tested in any particular way. What is most striking about this role is definitely her physical preparation. She dances the hell out of it here.

    There are long sequences that, despite being heavily edited, look impressive simply because of the fact that the actress is doing it all in camera. If it doesn’t show much else, it is a performance that proves Johnson’s commitment and it is fascinating to watch, at least in that regard. Mia Goth gets to do and show more. She has less screen time but her character goes through far greater extremes. When pain, confusion and terror hit, Goth definitely delivers in addition to her own intricate dancing scenes. Tilda Swinton is well cast as the half-disturbing, half-comforting teacher. Her natural aura is more than enough to provide the creepy character with the necessary gravitas.

A Spectacularly Crafted Group Dancing Number

   As far as dancing is concerned, there is an extended sequence in the film’s third act, which is arguably, the film’s best scene. In it, the dance group, which we follow for the majority of the story perform extraordinarily in a dizzying light show. That dance is intercut with a simultaneously going horror scene and the editing is, admittedly, masterful. It is great in the sense that the scene transforms into an actual out-of-body experience. For about a minute, the audience will be completely engrossed into the rhythm of the dance and the perfect execution of the dancers.

Drama is Replaced by Brutal Gore

   The story is admittedly creepy. The problem is that almost every single sequence that leads up to a supernatural horror event concludes with some sort of physical maiming. That is the highlight of it and it inflicts no real trauma. It is a horror film that won’t disturb your sleep. Great films in the same genre such as The Sixth Sense or The Shining hit hard on an emotional level first and foremost. The fear they instill in audiences doesn’t depend on grotesque deformations.

   The first scene of terror in Suspiria is likely its most effective one. It is overly reliant on gore and blood but at that point the audience has not yet gone numb to the excessive use of that device. From then on, it just feels like more of the same. In ways it is the equivalent of watching an R-rated war movie that you just don’t take seriously. That can’t get under your skin. Realistically faked blood and state of the art make up is no substitute for psychological disturbance.

Ineffective Comedy and an Alienating Final Scene

   There are a couple of elements in the film that further dumb down its emotional impact. The first of those is intentional or unintentional comedy. There are some moments in the film, which will make the audience laugh uncontrollably and not simply because they are funny. The violence and the ridiculousness of a fair number of scenes will cause the audience to break. Those irregular bursts of comedy will quickly distort the creepy atmosphere of the haunted school.

   And then there is the ending sequence, which is far too long, considering the type of stuff that you will get to see in it. There will definitely be viewers who have managed to take the film seriously enough in order to follow the otherwise complicated plot. These particular audience members might end up having an idea about what on earth is happening in those final 20 minutes. Checking out at that point would be a perfectly understandable choice. It is an inane sequence, filled with all kinds of unimaginably disgusting images and supernatural nonsense. In all likelihood, it is a sequence, which is supposed to pull the rug from underneath our feet and blow our minds but ends up doing nothing more than to test our patience.

Entertaining but Forgettable

   Love it or hate it, Suspiria is an experience of its own kind. The film has a steady, sickly flow, which takes us through the gruesome demise of various unsuspecting victims. It fails as a horror film because it never gets under your skin. The stress is put on momentary shock and disposable entertainment rather than on lingering impact. Despite the technical mastery of the film in terms of editing, cinematography and choreography, Suspiria is just fun and not much more.

   At the end of the adventure, it feels like you have watched something crazy and random, not a story that was focused and aimed for anything in particular. If blood, gore, flesh wounds, stunning dancing and a general display of insanity is your cup of tea, Suspiria will deliver. If you are looking for something terrifying that will make you want to turn on the lights before your walk into a dark room, you might want to look somewhere else.

Rating: 5/10

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About the author

Deyan Angelov

My name is Deyan Angelov and I am 25. I have written articles for FilmBook. I graduated from the University of London, Royal Holloway in 2014. I have worked as an air operator, sound recorder and camera operator for different TV stations. I have participated in a variety of internships at Nu Boyana Film Studios.

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