"Cold, Confusing Witches’ Brew"
SUSPIRIA is a loose remake of an infamous but acclaimed Italian horror movie where an American ballet dancer comes to 1977 Berlin to study at a respected ballet school for young women, which happens to be run by a coven of witches with evil intent. SUSPIRIA (2018) is a cold witches’ brew with a confusing, ultraviolent ending where the witches take different sides in a bloody power struggle while the American dancer carries out her own violent plan that makes even less sense. This SUSPIRIA is slow, confusing, pretentious, and ultimately pretty loathsome.
Set in 1977 (the year that the original movie was released), the new movie opens with one of the ballet dancers at the Helena Markos Dance Company ranting and raving about a conspiracy of witches at the school to an elderly psychiatrist named Dr. Klemperer. The doctor thinks this Patricia woman is delusional and paranoid, but he grows concerned when Patricia disappears. He tries to go to the police, but thy never get back to him, so he starts his own investigation.
Meanwhile, Susie Bannion, an American farm girl obsessed with ballet, especially by the dance company’s head teacher, Madame Blanc, feels herself strangely drawn to Berlin and the school. After a fitful start, Susie auditions for the school and impresses Madame Blanc with her raw talent and idiosyncratic modern dancing. She does so well, in fact, that she nabs the lead dancer role for a performance of the school’s bizarre signature work, titled “Volk,” an allusion to Nazi German’s obsession with the German people, or “volk”, as a master race. This enrages the previous lead dancer, Olga, who storms out of a ballet class screaming about witches and blaming Madame Blanc for what happened.
Back in the class, Blanc seems to imbue Susie’s hand with a mystical light, and Susie starts dancing her interpretation of the lead dancing in the piece. Wandering the rooms outside, Olga becomes trapped in a secret mirrored room. Then, Susie’s violent dance contortions start twisting and breaking Olga’s torso and limbs until she’s a huddled mass of broken flesh. Susie finishes her dancing in the ballet class, while the other teachers, called Mothers by the students, hover over Olga in the other room, stabbing her with hooked steel instruments to drag her bloody body into a secret passageway.
Dr. Klemperer manages to find Patricia’s diary, which reveals an ancient demonic, pagan religion practiced by the teachers. He approaches Susie’s roommate, Sara, for help. She refuses, but ventures into the hidden depths of the dance company’s hidden chambers, where she makes some strange, horrific discoveries.
Everything culminates at a public performance of the “Volk” piece that Dr. Klemperer attends. The lithe bodies of the dancers are attired with red ropes placed strategically around their private areas. The strange performance suddenly terminates with Susie accidentally breaking Sara’s leg, which in turn leads to a bloody occult ritual in a large underground cavern located in the bowels of the dance studio. Even Dr. Klemperer is forced to attend the ritual, his body stripped naked and beaten by the female witches.
This loose remake is rather cold and slow, as well as violent. It also ends in bloody confusion and chaos. As far as one can make out, the demonic ritual at the end is supposed to be a pagan sacrifice of either Sara or Susie to restore youth to the nude, wizened, wrinkled body of the founder of the dance school, Helena Markos. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] Part way through the ritual, however, Madame Blanc starts asserting that there’s something wrong with what they’re doing. She wants to stop it, but Markos uses her witchcraft powers to cut her throat, and more murder and mayhem breaks out while the teachers and dance students dance totally nude around a satanic altar. Meanwhile, Susie, who’s dressed in a sheer black robe resembling a nightgown, appears suddenly to be a powerful witch herself and starts taking violent revenge for Madame Blanc against all the teachers supporting Markos. There’s even a euthanasia scene where Susie asks two of the surviving students if they want to live or die. The students say they’d rather die, so Susie murders them.
Is the ending just supposed to be a power struggle between Markos and Blanc, with Susie coming out the victor? Or is Susie supposed to be an avenging angel of some kind sent to cleanse the dance school of the evil within it? And, what does it mean when Susie calls herself “Mother Suspiria” before she takes bloody control?
Making matters even more confusing is an epilogue, where Susie visits a suffering Dr. Klemperer. While trying to solve the case of Patricia’s disappearance, the doctor is haunted by what happened to his wife, who disappeared during the final lengthy siege of Berlin at the end of World War II. He and his wife had split up, thinking it would be better if his wife traveled by herself instead of being with her Jewish husband. He always imagined that his wife had somehow escaped to Western Europe or America, but Susie reveals to Dr. Klemperer that his wife died in a concentration camp. Susie says she absolves him of all guilt, but the movie never explains how that’s possible.
Sometimes in the movie, it does seem that the evil witches at the dance school who support Markos are symbols of Hitlerian fascism. In that light, the story can be read as a bloody allegory about World War II, where the American ballet student puts an end to the reign of terror by Markos and her supporters. Yet, although Susie seems to be the source of their ultimate destruction, why does she carry out the euthanasia desires of the two students who seemed to be her friends before the movie’s bloody climax?
Making things even more confusing, the filmmakers set their horror movie against the historical backdrop of the final gasp of the violent, infamous left-wing German terrorist group known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. At times during the movie, several characters speculated that the missing ballet student ran off to join the terrorist group. The movie’s ending vaguely suggests that Susie’s opposition to Markos and her faction may be analogous to Baader-Meinhof’s attacks on Germany’s capitalist society, which was seen by the left as complicit in allowing some ex-Nazis to return to some government positions of power. The movie is too ambiguous and confusing, however, so this possible connection between the Susie character and left-wing terrorism is too undeveloped.
Ultimately, this SUSPIRIA is a slow, abhorrent, confusing, pretentious witches’ brew. Average moviegoers and intelligent fans of horror movies will not be impressed that much, but who knows? The extreme violence in SUSPIRIA has little to no real purpose. The nudity is just plain silly and offensive, but so, of course, is witchcraft. As Deuteronomy 18:10-12 of the Bible says:
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same evil practices, the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.”
SUSPIRIA is a loose remake of an infamous but acclaimed Italian horror movie from 1977. In the new story, a young American woman named Susie comes to 1977 Berlin to study at the Helena Markos Dance Company under Madame Blanc. Before Susie arrives, one of the dancers has gone missing after raving to her elderly psychiatrist about witches at the school trying to get her. Susie impresses Madame Blanc with her raw talent and idiosyncratic dancing. She does so well that she nabs the lead role for a performance of the company’s bizarre signature work. Eventually, things lead to a disturbing climax during a bloody satanic ritual and violent struggle for control of the coven. Most of the witches during the ritual wear no clothes.
Ultimately, this SUSPIRIA is a slow, abhorrent, confusing, and rather pretentious witches’ brew. The ending doesn’t make sense. Average moviegoers and intelligent fans of horror movies won’t be impressed that much. The extreme violence has little to no real purpose. The extreme nudity in SUSPIRIA is just plain silly and offensive, but so, of course, is witchcraft.