Director Luca Guadagnino’s polarizing portrayal of a German coven
The term “uncomfortable” often turns people off movies, but not me. Recommended by a friend a few years ago, “Suspiria” was described to me as “a movie that will make you so uncomfortable you’ll need to take a shower afterwards.” I was scared, but chose to seek out this movie anyway – what a great mistake that was.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, this film is a polarizing, stressful and horrifying story about witches, womanhood and motherhood. If this is a remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” released in 1977, this 2018 counterpart is an entirely different film. From its difference in color palette to its highly stylized and gory body horror scenes, the two films are two separate entities: the same bones in a completely different body.
“Suspiria” (2018) follows young Susie Bannion, played by Dakota Johnson, a naive Mennonite American auditioning for a prestigious dance academy in West Berlin. Unknowingly, her quest to become a dancer at this world-renowned institute will lead her into a world of politics, femininity, and sorcery. She enters the institute at a time of instability, as lead dance choreographer Madame Blanc attempts to wrest control of the academy from Helena Markos, an elderly and sickly matriarch. Blanc and Markos, both played by Tilda Swinton, fight a battle that seems simple enough, but as the film progresses, viewers realize that all is not as it seems.
The beginning of the film opens with a scene in which a heartbreaking ex-academy student talks to a therapist named Dr. Jozef Klemperer, once again played by Swinton. Patricia (Chloe Grace-Moretz) tells Klemperer about her suspicions about the academy’s rulers and choreographers, stating that they are witches who perform rituals at the expense of precocious young girls. She disappears soon after, and Klemperer is intrigued by this shocking turn of events, prompting him to investigate the institute and contact the police.
These two separate events play out on a parallel track throughout the film, and as Klemperer gets closer to the truth, things start to darken within the walls of the academy. Susie is crowned head dancer and gains a new sense of confidence and flair. In a standout performance by Johnson, Susie’s character arc quickly takes a turn for the worse when she realizes she’s a powerful being at this academy; she belittles other students and engages in selfish acts, while being quite self-destructive.
Tilda Swinton, exploiting three different roles in this movie, is stellar in all of them. She plays Madame Blanc with a severity seen as cold, yet protective, but she also engenders fear and loathing as mother Helena Markos. Finally, she stuns with her portrayal of Klemperer, the mild-mannered and ominous psychiatrist who has no idea what awaits him.
Without revealing too much about this film, the institute is revealed to be a coven of witches who worship “The Three Mothers”, a triad of witches who rule and watch over the Earth. This triad is made up of Mother Tenebrarum (the youngest and cruelest), Mother Lachrymarum (the most beautiful and powerful) and Mother Suspiriorum (the oldest and wisest). Helena Markos, the leader of the clan who also happens to be Mother Suspiriorum, dies with each passing day and she is actively searching for a new vessel for her soul. Markos begins targeting Susie as his choice of ship, allowing her to rise through the ranks within the institute as a relatively new student.
The film is not just a bloodthirsty thriller. “Suspiria” is a metaphor for femininity and femininity. The women of the clan are presented as motherly and simple, but we soon realize that they are extremely powerful beings who sometimes take part in horrific acts of torture and murder. The witches inflict violence on their students and also convince them to act maliciously, implying that powerful women should be feared by all. Although some critics think this view of feminism falls flat, I don’t see it that way. I think this film is a true representation of feminism and motherhood, as parents are sometimes forced to make decisions that don’t always translate into positive feelings. This is seen throughout the film, as the witches don’t seek to harm everyone, but they constantly make sacrifices at the expense of their students in order to continue their rule and protection of this planet.
The film as a whole is a shocking and uncomfortable watch. Personally, I tend to watch all the movies in one sitting, but I just couldn’t do it with “Suspiria”. There are several scenes where limbs and bodies are seen contorting in unnatural ways, combined with gore and torture, making it nearly impossible to sit down. I never had any problem watching the occasional mind-bending horror movie, but Guadagnino’s remake of this already twisted story left me extremely uneasy. That being said, I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. I liked that it didn’t leave me with a feeling of completeness and satisfaction like most movies do. The beauty of the Guadagnino remake is in its unconventionality, and this film felt like a breath of fresh air compared to other films released this year. “Suspiria” certainly isn’t for you if you have a weak stomach, but if you’re looking for a movie that will stick with you for a while, I recommend this glorious yet traumatic remake.
Ashviny Kaur can be contacted at [email protected]