Director – Dario Agento
Writer(s) – Dario Agento, Daria Nicolodi
Starring – Jessica Harper, Joan Benett, Alida Valli
From cult icon Dari Agento comes easily one of his finest ever efforts, that also serves a basic lesson in audio/visual idiosyncrasy for those polluting the contemporary horror scene with their continuous line of drivel. Whilst today’s efforts tend to lean on gimmicks and jump scares, Agento reminds of us of a finer time when directors knew how to hit us where it truly hurts; deep inside our subconscious.
Suspiria tells the tale of Suzy Bannion (Harper), an American student who joins a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg; only to be turned away on her first night, the same night a fellow student is expelled, and Suzy sees her frantically trying to mouth a warning, a warning she can’t quite catch. She then arrives at the academy the next day and everything appears to be in order, until she discovers that the student from the previous night had been brutally murdered. Surreal shenanigans then begin, as Suzy finds herself in the depths of a deep and disturbing mystery and she attempts to uncover the dark heart at the Academy’s center.
Whilst the screenplay isn’t magnificent, it also never falls into poor or awful territory either. The dialogue is, mostly, believable and not ridiculously jam packed full of exposition. Still, there are some awfully clunky moments, particularly towards the end. It’s a relatively decent writing effort and at the very least the mystery is intriguing and enigmatic, and encourages one to continue watching.
The performances, also, are never particularly bad nor particularly great, and one particular segment towards the end is laughably poor; in fact, I think the ending was my biggest gripe with this whole thing, but Harper is serviceable if unspectacular and is never poor enough to drag one out of it. Benett and Valli are both pretty decent; being the pretentious and rude type one might associate with such highly held locales, whilst suggesting more sinister undertones.
Now, this is what the film doesn’t do particularly well, and I wanted to get it out of the way early, so I can talk about everything the film does do absolutely spectacularly well. Truth be told, as a horror film, great writing is rarely what one attends to see. Rather, you want to be uncomfortable, disturbed, provoked and evoked; Suspiria manages all of these things beautifully.
The key, I believe, to creating a fine piece of horror fiction is understanding basic human psychology. Perhaps nobody in the history of cinema has understood it better than the great David Lynch, who could make a seemingly normal scene feel monstrous via his genius use of sound and visual cues. Agento gets this clearly, in particular with his over saturation and heavy use of the colour red. Red, historically, can mean two things to us, on a subconscious level; passion, and danger. In this case the reaction is the latter, and the constant and vibrant use of the colour causes a reaction within you that you are barely aware is even transpiring. It is subtle genius, as it reaches into the dark recesses of your subconscious and causes a reaction deep within, causing you to spend the entire run time on edge, alert and disturbed, without truly knowing why.
The violent scenes are also very scarce, with, to my memory, only four scene of particular violence happening. When they are deployed, however, they are a thing of macabre beauty. In particular a horrific experience with some barb wire is particularly impactful. If you’re a fan of torture porn, you’ll probably be a bit ‘meh’ about this whole thing, but if you’re a fan of torture porn, I’m seriously not the critic for you, and Agento not the director for you either. Agento gets the ‘less is more’ theory that always works well, relying on tension and atmosphere as opposed to splatter and gore, but giving you just enough of the latter to satisfy any primal cravings.
The score is also great; creating a truly hypnotic and mesmerising effect that again burrows into your subconscious and shits out ugly eggs of discomfort. Make no mistake about it, this is not beautifully composed music. It is guttural, and nasty, and industrial, and for all these reasons it works and resonates within your mind in all the worse ways. Goblin deserve a lot of credit for their work here, and I’m going to give it to them.
Now, this isn’t a true masterpiece, akin to the likes of The Shining or The Wicker Man, but it still stands head and shoulders above most of the contemporary scene. This is a raw and brutal assault on your audio/visual senses, that attacks you at your deepest level, and beats you relentlessly until the end. For any horror geeks out there, this is must see.