UK Release Date 16th November 2018
Director Luca Guadagnino
Starring TILDA
Runtime 151 minutes
Certificate ermmm OLD
Reviewer Jo of course
Reviewed 15th November 2018 (otherwise known as last minute)

At 830am on a wet October morning with a raging hangover from the premiere of the effervescent Wild Rose (review to come dear readers) I dragged myself to Leicester Square to watch on the rather wonderful Super screen the press LFF screening of Suspiria, a film in 8 acts.  From the moment I sat down I barely moved throughout the entire two and a half hours, mesmerised by Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the classic Dario Argento 1977 film of the same name (which I have not seen).  Is it ludicrous yes? Is it beautiful and bewitching yes? Suspiria is a thoroughly fabulous and strange piece of film making by Luca Guadagnino reuniting with long-time Muse Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson.    

 Act 1 unfolds with a scene that sets the unsettling tone for the whole film.  Patricia, a terrified young girl (always brilliant but underused here, Chloe Grace Moretz) bursts into her psychiatrist’s office Dr Jozef Klemperer (played by Lutz Ebersdorf who is actually, and brilliantly, Tilda Swinton) and rants and raves about how her prestigious dance school Helena Markos Tanzgruppe is, in fact, a coven of malicious bloodthirsty witches.  Klemperer treats his patient with seriousness and gravity and his concern continues when she disappears entirely a short while later and his interest in the school is peaked. 

 Queue the arrival to Tanzgruppe of Dakota Johnson’s all American Susie whose audition stirs the entire company and the attention of their current leader Madame Blanc (although behind the scenes and unbeknownst to Susie there is a leadership battle amongst the ‘teachers’.) Susie’s dance is magnetic, powerful and dangerous, she has no idea of the supernatural effect it is having as she is guided by Madame Blanc.  Every perfect move Susie lands has the adverse effect on young dancer Olga whose body is being tortured in time to the music, this abuse plays out in a mirrored room adjacent to Susie’s audition room and is eye wateringly corporal.    

 As Susie’s progression through the ranks of the school continues, girls are mysteriously disappearing and there is dissent from within the ranks.  Patricia’s whereabouts in particular is constantly alluded to – and, as you can imagine, this does not end well for the questioners. Susie is being groomed in the hope that she will be the girl who can save the Coven’s deteriorating leader Helena Markos (also played by Swinton with some Dark Crystal-esque prosthetics going on!)

 The main famous dance – Volk – is the alluring, ensnaring dance which Susie is learning to lead that will be performed in front of an audience and we are left wondering and imagining just what the consequences of this dance will be to the viewers.  The dance is a wonderful piece of choreography and costume, as hypnotic as it is disturbing, it stays with the viewer for some time, at the same time beautiful and bewitching and wonderfully visualised by Belgian Choreographer Damien Jalet and all set to a fantastic subtle film score by one Thom Yorke. 

 Guadagnino has moved the setting of this remake from Austria to a snowy cold Berlin just after the Second World War, a city in a country still scolded from the shame and humility of the war. The school is located right by the Berlin Wall, which Josef passes often as he visits a house with graffiti from his wife who vanished in 1943.  Teaming up with Sayombhu Mukdeeprom his Call me by your Name cinematographer, Guadagnino has created a jarring, exciting unsettling film where camera moves are bizarre and upsetting and coupled with Jalet’s choreography ratchet up the tension as much as the twisted bones and flashes of nightmarish sequences we are bombarded with.  Mirrors are used constantly and effectively and those who are squeamish (that’s you Si) would need to look away a fair percentage of the film. 

 This film of course really centres on Swinton.  There are wonderful cameos from the cast women of all types and Johnson is perfect to play irritatingly perfect Susie but it is Swinton you want to see and she doesn’t disappoint.  It’s a role that has some lines that really are ridiculous but in keeping with a serious celebrated  (read: pompous) dance teacher.  It’s a role that is made real and believable in Swinton’s hands whilst simultaneously being extremely camp and fabulous.  As Josef she is unrecognisable (well to me anyway, I had no bloody idea until I read another review!) and what fun. Having Swinton play the main male role genius.  It makes the film’s leading and noteworthy characters entirely populated by women.  The only men are almost entirely forgettable policemen, a feminist move indeed.   

Suspiria is undoubtedly a film that will make some furious and some elated, a Marmite coven one might say. I am most certainly and firmly in the latter camp. I adored its madness, pantomime, ludicrousness, brilliance, and celebration of femininity. It is a darkly dazzling fairy tale of a film that lingers on the edges of one’s mind like a spellbinding dream or an horrific nightmare, or perhaps a melding of both. The end scene is so deliciously gory, visceral and bonkers that you must see it rather than me say any more.  I for one will be off to the cinema again and again as soon as it is released.  I mean come on – who doesn’t want to be a witch?


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