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'Suspiria' Is Intense, Grotesque, and Kinda Orgasmic

'Suspiria' Is Intense, Grotesque, and Kinda Orgasmic

This post contains spoilers for Suspiria, now playing in theaters.

In Spanish, “suspiria” is the word for “sigh,” or the act of exhaling after a long breath. That is exactly what you end up doing when you finish watching Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 classic horror film Suspiria, because you realize you’ve just been holding your breath for two and a half hours. Yes, it’s a little on the long side (152 minutes, to be exact) but Suspiria is a discomforting, bold, quiet, messy journey that’s equally as beautiful as it is terrifying.

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If you aren’t familiar with the original Dario Argento movie, here’s the O.G.'s basic plot: a woman named Susie (Jessica Harper) goes to a fancy ballet school that oh, by the way, is run by witches. Oops, forgot to tell you, Susi e!

In Guadagnino’s reimagining, Susie (Dakota Johnson) is a young American Mennonite (as in, super religious) woman who has big dreams of dancing at Berlin’s renowned Markos Dance Academy. She arrives at the Academy in the fall of 1977â€"a time when rebel armies were setting off literal bombs in the street. She wants to audition at the all-female dance school, despite the head mistress Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) telling Susie that the government “wanted the women to shut off their minds and keep their uteruses open.”

Coincidentally (or not), the school just so happens to have an empty spot, as one of their top dancers, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), has disappeared after a wholly upsetting, utterly confusing opening scene that will transfix you.

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After an intense auditionâ€"that weirdly orgasmic, seizure-y clip you've probably seen meme'd alreadyâ€"she is not only offer ed a spot at the Academy, but is given Patricia’s former room, and lands the lead spot in the next show. But our girl Susie isn’t what she appears to be. Then again, neither are any of the women in the Academy.

Nice braid tho!

There’s a lot to absorb in the relationships between the women at the dance school. For one, the symbolism of the “madames” of the home (the older women like Blanc, some of whom used to be dancers themselves) and how they view and treat their students, or “daughters.”

On one hand, the madames are the caretakers of the school. They make sure the girls are healthy, fed, and cared for. On the other hand, they also watch their protégés
with something that seems like hungerâ€"which is fitting considering they eat a few of their dancers.

Is what the coven does an act of self-preservation? Or a unifying act of women?

Yes, eat! As in for food! And it’s not even a real spoiler because we find out about this casual cannibalism with a telling scene early on. You know how moms can be! But even that act feels like it is done with intent beyond just, “yum, fiber.”

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Is what the coven does an act of self-preservation? Or a unifying act of women? Is it a statement of youth and beauty versus aging and wisdom? This is where there’s some slight confusion over who is really telling this story. Guadagnino is a wonderful storyteller, and though he can touch on the female energy, he can’t fully encompass it the way a woman might have been able to.

Hi, mom.

I had to sit and wonder what I would be feeling had this film been made by a woman. Having the plot be centered in a dance studio is pretty brill iant as dance’s beauty can be enchanting. To dance is to release an energy within your body in celebration, in love, in angst, and a woman’s relationship with her body and all the power that body can hold is complicated, and deep.

In its climax, the act of dance is truly an act of worship, and in a way, also a connection to motherhood. How intense, grotesque, surreal, and terrifying the act of givingâ€"and takingâ€"life can be. How women have the power to preserve or extinguish humanity in their bodies is stunning to see on screen. Guadagnino’s vision here is going to be hard to stomach for manyâ€"but it is so worth the watch.

Suspiria is a feminine and feminist horror experience that isn’t for the faint of heart.

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Guadagnino has a knack for opening up the senses. Just as you could feel the warmth of the Italian summer (and kinda taste the peach) as it envelope d the ache of first love in Call Me By Your Name, you can feel the bitter chill of Berlin in Suspiria. You can breathe the cold, musty air within the walls of the dance school, and taste the tinny flavor of the blood that flows in one of the scariest sequences ever.

Suspiria is a feminine and feminist horror experience that isn’t for the faint of heart. Walking out of my screening, I wanted to let the film sit with me to truly understand what I was feeling. It wasn’t rage. It wasn’t terror. I just couldn’t place my finger on it. Within a minute or two, two older white men walked past me and exclaimed, “I absolutely hated that movie...I don’t get it, at all!” and suddenly, I understood. It was power.

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