…………..Wow. Yep. Wow. Okay, lets get started.
Directed and produced by brothers Dario and Claudio Argento (in that order) – Suspiria is about Susanna “Suzy” Bannion, a 20 year old American woman (played by Jessica Harper) who arrives in Germany in order to be part of a Ballet School. She takes a taxi to the school from the airport in the pouring rain and arrives at the front door. Another young woman exits the school’s front door in a hurry. After the door closes and locks, Suzy then tries to enter, but the voice on the other side of the speaker phone kept saying “Go away” – Suzy gets a hotel and returns in the morning…The girl she saw the night before and another girl, had died in a very brutal fashion, which meant a room was free. Suzy finally gets settled in…only to find that this Ballet School has…depth.
Now to get into why I said wow…
Would you believe me if I told you that Disney’s Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs was an inspiration to the lighting in this film? It’s full of bright colours, and just to be particularly unnerving, it’s mostly deep red. The vividness and high saturation made Tony Montana’s Mansion look like a design choice from IKEA. The rooms are very set-like, which potentially adds to a dream-like quality that’s present throughout the film.
The acting is very solid with some performances perhaps being hampered by the fact that this is like Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy – a few Americans, a number of local actors from near the shooting location, and an english dubbing that can sometimes miss the mark. Jessica Harper’s performance has a gentle and likeable presence, the kind that makes you route for her. For me the scariest overall performance was Alida Valli as Miss Tanner (the head instructor) – to provide context, Valli was a very beautiful woman, and still looked very well by the time she was about 55, when this film was made. But here; the hair, the clothes, her posture, her facial expressions…her stare, the forced smile – they were like a combination of Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and the teacher from The Wicker Man – She. Was. Creepy! The rest of the performances did what was necessary without being bad.
The characters are a bit different when you consider original intent over final product: The Ballet dancers were written to be about 12 years old, and when Dario Argento presented the idea during pre-production, he was told that the murder of 12 year olds would not sit well with anybody…so he made them 20 and everyone said okay…But the simple and naive dialogue of the characters remained the same. You don’t get to know too much about the characters or their backstories, as the film very much is about the time just before and after we enter the School. But they’re not bad.
The Story is based on a collection of short essays by Thomas De Quincy known as “Suspiria de Profundis” or “Sighs From The Depths”, a sequel to Confessions Of An English Opium Dealer, and is rooted in the “trips” experienced while taking Opium. Considering they were published in 1845 (a full 20 years before Alice In Wonderland was published), it could be said that perhaps it was 1 of the weirder books of its day. Within that context, the film really is a series of events that could be interpreted as trips or nightmares, in which the experiences of the mind ends up killing people. There is a plot here and it flows well, as the school starts to fall apart and other attendees start to either die or go missing.
The Music…The music…It’s by “Goblin”…and…It’s 1 of the creepiest and most unsettling soundtracks you will ever hear. It isn’t just “music” it’s a bit pile of oppressive, violent sounds, from angry Ghost howls to the clattering and banging of various instruments with murderous chants and shouts. And their presence is so strong that you notice the silence…and that’s just as unsettling. If there was anything I could compare it to, it would be the parts of the Silent Hill soundtrack that didn’t use Twin Peaks Guitar. It is very 1970s in sound, and fits the visuals perfectly.
The cinematography by Luciano Tovoli is really, really excellent. The angles he gets to go with the lighting is phenomenal. Some of the shots remind me of John Alcott (Stanley Kubrick’s go-to cinematographer for 12 years). Nearly everything is shot in a striking or polarising way.
Would I recommend Suspiria? Yes I would, if you like Horror movies. It’s a very unique visual and audio experience, and highly, highly…unsettling (I know, I’ve used that word a lot here). Where it lacks in jump scares, it excels in the more old school horror approach…the horror that is about the visually grotesque. An H.P. Lovecraft style horror that doesn’t jump or sprint, but focuses on a lingering anxiety that gives very little room for a break.