Roughly four months ago I was so conflicted and distressed about my negative reaction to Luca Guadagnino‘s Suspiria that I chickened out by not posting on Hollywood Elsewhere classic. Instead I hid it behind the HE Plus paywall. I wouldn’t blame Luca if he resented me for writing what I wrote (which was actually a chickenshit equivocation) but if I don’t stick to my guns when the writing of a review feels awkward or painful, I’m not worth anything as a critic or columnist.
Here’s the half-assed review that I didn’t have the balls to post when Suspiria was about to open:
Luca Guadagnino‘s Suspiria (Amazon, 10.26) has brought distress and left me glum and conflicted. I’m torn by my admiration and affection for a great filmmaker and a wonderful human being and…well, my troubled responses to this strange detour film. It’s left me in a bad, self-doubting place, and as wimpy as this sounds I think my reactions to Suspiria are probably best left alone.
Am I chickening out? Yes, I am — sorry. But this is what happens when you know a guy who’s made a striking, complex film that’s put you in a weird place.
When I think of Luca I think of his kindness and spiritual warmth, his wonderful Italian humor, his home town of Crema, distressed palazzo interior design, empathy, generosity, sincerity, Call Me By Your Name, A Bigger Splash, I Am Love, Jonathan Demme, Northern Africa, that wonderful lunch we shared at that cliffside restaurant in La Spezia and a joyful dinner we had at a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles about a year ago. And I’d rather just focus on all that stuff for now.
Okay, I’ll share a few thoughts about Suspiria but just a few dots and jabs.
Suspiria is set in 1977, the year that Dario Argento’s original came out. The subject is a coven of venal, sadistic, cold-eyed witches up to no good in a shadowy corner of Berlin, and particularly inside a grayish, greenish, ultra-gloomy ballet studio.
It’s a movie about chills, cruelty, brutality, sadism and, for the requisite grand finale, the raising of a filthy, thorn-fingered devil or demon (a brother or a cousin of the Rosemary’s Baby devil who impregnated Mia Farrow).
It has something to do with the demons and rank nightmares that are buried within the German psyche — World War II, concentration camps, ‘70s terrorism (Baader-Meinhof gang). What a coven of ballet-school witches have to do with Germany’s dark history, I have yet to fully understand. Maybe nothing. Maybe the witches and Germany’s ugly past are simply co-existing.
Suspiria generates a very distinct and all-encompassing realm of cold, wet, snowy Berlin, for sure. And it’s certainly one of the darkest, muddiest, most under-lighted films I’ve ever seen in my life, horror or no horror.
Luca has come up with a visual look, a mood, an imaginative backstory that only a gifted fellow could imagine or implement, but the reactions to this film are probably going to be split between genre fans and everyone else.
It’s so unlike his last three movies that it left me shaking my head. All I can figure is that Luca needed to get this out of his system before moving on to something else. The artistic process sometimes requires a purging of old business before fresh thoughts and dreams can manifest.
There’s a paragraph in Oliver Jones’ Observer review that I agree with, so here it is:
“A stunning come-down from Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino’s romantic classic that was one of the most accomplished films of last year, Suspiria displays a much keener interest in impressing its audience with what it perceives is shocking boldness than it is with connecting to people psychologically or emotionally — or for that matter, simply telling a compelling story.”