Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Film Review - Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

Fig 1. Suspiria Poster

Suspiria follows an American ballet student who travels to Germany to enroll at their most prestigious ballet academy. From beginning to end, the film is filled with strangely stylized murder scenes, where blood pours like acrylic paint and the victims scream without end.

Adam Smith states in his review on empireonline.com ''Argento is a maestro of sustained horror sequences. In one a blind man is suddenly set upon by his own guide-dog — the scene is shot audaciously in either extreme long shot (a kind of pigeon's eye view) or extreme close ups of the hound tearing horribly realistic chunks out of the unfortunate man's neck.'' (Smith, s.d.). Whilst almost all of the murder scenes are very stylized, the scene with the blind man and his dog is quite an extreme exception. When the dog is ripping at the flesh of the mans neck, it feels far too realistic in comparison to other deaths. In this sense the viewer can easily get caught off guard with this scene. While this may be an effect the director was hoping for, the scene feels somewhat out of place when set against the rest of the film, it takes place outside in the town where there is little other than grey in the environment (See Fig 2). This alone is a very sudden change and it seems to promote the space outside of the academy as a completely separate world, like the ballet academy is detached from reality.

Fig 2. Town Square Still.

Ed Gonzalez states in his review ''The wallpaper in Pat's bedroom is also Argento's first allusion to flying in the film. Supernatural behavior in Suspiria is pervasive and inescapable, commanded by a coven of witches. Even a simple swim is seemingly chaperoned by a faceless evil.'' (Gonzalez, 2001). It is clear that through the use of colour and distant camera angles, the spaces within the walls of the academy seem menacing and intimidating. Even the music and sound play their part to heighten the surreal sense in the spaces. Particularly in the swimming pool scene, the two girls are talking about problems with the academy and strange occurrences, all the while the camera is switching between close ups of them and also a high shot that gives the impression of someone eavesdropping.

Janet Maslin has this to say in her review of the film ''Shooting on bold, very fake-looking sets, he uses bright primary colors and stark lines to create a campy, surreal atmosphere, and his distorted camera angles and crazy lighting turn out to be much more memorable than the carnage.'' (Maslin, 1977). The fake-looking sets and bold uses of colour create a dreamlike stage for the film, these techniques work completely against any form of realism and can quite easily alienate the viewer. The academy design as a whole seems to constantly hint that this isn't real and that it is perhaps some kind of bizarre fever dream, with its bright reds and sickening yellows that are almost too much to look at (See Fig 3). They are quite distracting and can easily divert your attention away from any slow or dull moments in the film.

Fig 3. Hallway Still

Overall, the design of the film in the sets and music are generally much more eye-catching than the story itself, which is exceedingly basic and doesn't draw much attention outside of its bizarre murder scenes.

Illustration List

Argento, D (1977) Figure 1. Suspiria Poster. http://images.moviepostershop.com/suspiria-movie-poster-1977-1020491580.jpg (Accessed on 09/12/14)

Argento, D (1977) Figure 2. Town Square Still. http://mygeekblasphemy.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/suspiria9_copy0.jpg (Accessed on 09/12/14)

Argento, D (1977) |Figure 3. Hallway Still. http://mannysbookofshadows.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/dormitory-hallway.jpg (Accessed on 09/12/14)


Gonzalez, E (2001) http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/suspiria (Accessed on 09/12/14)

Maslin, J (1977) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=990CEFDB1F3BE334BC4B52DFBE66838C669EDE (Accessed on 09/12/14)

Smith, A (s.d.) http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=132659 (Accessed on 09/12/14)

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