RJ Bayley Reviews: Suspiria

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For all the theorist’s talk of Suspiria’s artistry, it is an ultimately brutish film. The movie’s ultimate aim is to scare the viewer, and it does so with absolutely no sophistication whatsoever. This is great praise. Many a time has an ‘artistic’ horror movie fallen foul of its own aspirations of transcendence, concentrating too much on nuanced dialogue and elegant directing, and neglecting to do what all great scare films should: punch you right in the gut.

From the very start Dario Argento’s film sets about the viewer by turning every mechanism of formal cinema at its disposable into brass knuckles equivalents of themselves. Most immediately striking is the abrasive and wonderfully disturbed soundtrack by the rock band Goblin. This is easily one of the greatest scores in cinema, overpowering every scene that it wants to with a discordant cacophony, while being simultaneously eminently listenable in its own right. So powerful is the score that in scenes such as that in girls’ make-shift dorm the viewer feels immense unease and tension despite the completely innocuous situation.

The film also attempts to affront you with its garish, unsubtle, unsophisticated visuals. Colour is used counter-intuitively in nearly all scenes, the bright, mostly primary lights, blasting into oblivious actor’s faces; it creates a perfectly psychedelic experience.

To sum up what makes Suspiria so scary, it’s not the scenes of maggots falling from the ceiling, or the admittedly fantastic hanging sequence. No, it’s the juxtaposition of brutish, thuggish techniques used to convey what should be conventionally subdued moments. It’s a film that hits you fairly hard when it’s most obvious it will, but just when you think it’s recovering, it breaks your ribs without warning. It is an epitome of the art-house trashthetique.

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