Friday, 18 December 2015

Film Review: Susperia

Fig 1: Film Poster for Susperia
Having a passion might become the worst thing possible, when a young american ballet student starts to attend a prestigious dance school in Europe. She gets swept up in a world of murder, bizarreness and of witchcraft. Susperia was created in 1977 by the Italian director Dario Argento, being the first part of his trilogy "Three Mothers". The set design of the film uses bright intoxicating colours, bold solid colours, primarily red, with some blues and greens. Every scene in the school are full of brilliant and unique patterns for each room. The unrealistic lighting breaks any sense of reality, making the school look fantastical and improbable when compared to the subtlety of the scenes at the university towards the climax of the film. A musical motive is played throughout as a sign to the gruesome or unnerving occurrences, first being played as the protagonist, Suzy Bannion, walks out the doors of the airport to travel to her new home for the duration of the film. A haunting theme, titled "Goblin", with chimes, drums and harsh chants that builds up as the action, whether it be murder or hints to the schools dark secrets take place.
"Eager to menace the audience from every sensory direction, Argento doesn't so much create and sustain an illusion of terror as invite you to marvel at his garish ingenuity, at the spectacle of a filmmaker who can't resist overstylizing and upstaging his material." (Gary Arnold, 1977, Washington Post)
Fig 2: Shot of the entrance of the Dance School
The film begins with Suzy leaving the airport while in the middle of a heavy storm, just as she's about to arrive at the school, she spots one of the students running through the forrest. The girl is panicked for some reason, running into her room where her roommate inquires what happened to her. The girl escapes to the bathroom for safety, however, the wind blows open the window. Has she goes to close the window, she is brutally attacked by a mysterious assailant. The unknown man drags her to the glass area of the roof that overlooks the main hall, where her friend is looking for her. The glass smashes, subsequently hanging the girl and stabbed her friend down below with a large shard of glass, a very gruesome sight.
Suzy comes back to the school the following day, after not being allowed access the previous day.  The head of the school, Madam Blanc, tours her around the facility. She is offered a place in the dorms but she refuses as she has a place with one of the third year girls. The next day, Suzy is struck with a case of anaemia in the middle of practise and is forced to move to the dorms in order to be treated with regular meals. A few days after that, an infestation of maggots leads to the evacuation of the second floor dorms, with the students having to sleep in one of the practise halls. Suzy's neighbour and friend Sarah wakes her up who recognises the snores behind the curtain as the school director's, due to the distinctive whistling. Her presence is odd as Sara reveals that the director of the school was not due to be there for a few more weeks.
After the incident with the maggots, the blind piano player, Daniel, is forced to leave the premises after it is revealed that his dog bit Madam Blanc's young nephew. Outraged, Daniel goes to the local german pub for a beer, but as they leave his dog starts to act up. Confuses as to why his dog is acting so strangely, the blind man tries to see if there is anyone out there before his dog leaps and starts to rip out his throat. Killing the man instantly, the beast begins to start eating its owner before being chased by some local police. Upon hearing the news, the teachers at the academy aren't so remorseful saying that the dog wasn't obedient and that Daniel had it coming.
The next day, Suzy recalls the words "Iris" and "Secret" that the girl she saw on her first day, running away in the storm said just before he demise. Later on when Suzy is swimming with Sarah in the school pool, Sara reveals her connections with the girl who died that day, named Pat. She was close friends with her but toward the end she started to act strange. Sarah then remembers that Pat had wrote notes about the strange goings ons on the school. When they are about to go to bed, the girls try to find the notes, but Suzy starts to get sleepy and upon hearing footsteps outside Sarah flees outside into the hallway and up to the attic, with the feeling of something following her. Locked in a small room, she makes a tower of suitcases to get her out the window before the assailant gets in. However she falls into a pit of barbed wired and slowly dies from the blood lose as the wires cut into her skin.
The next morning, Suzy inquires about the whereabouts of Sarah, only for Madam Blanc to say that she left the campus. Struck with a weird feeling, Suzy goes out to meet an associated of Sarah's, Frank Mandel, who explains about the premise of witches and the origins of the school and the founder Helena Markos who was believed to of been a witch. He passes her onto his colleague who says that when the queen is destroyed then so is the coven.
When she returns to the school, Suzy finds the place eerily abandoned as the other students have all gone off site to see a show at the theatre. She then over hears the same footprints Sarah heard and proceeds to follow them all the way to Madam Blanc's office. Looking at the floral decoration on the feature wall, she remembers what Pat said on that first night, and grabs hold of the iris flower, which turns out to be a door handle to a secret room. Suzy discovers that the teachers and other staff members are plotting for her death and she stumbles into a bedroom in fear. However the room houses the "Black Queen" Helena Markos who summons the corpse of Sarah to kill Suzy. Luckily, Suzy is able to stab the old hagged witch in the throat, killing her and makes for her escape as the school starts to collapse and be set ablaze all around her. She is able to escape and relieved she smiles at the downpour of rain above her and walks away from the cursed building as it slowly burns to the ground.
Fig 3: Shot of Suzy in the Room of the Witch in the climax point of the film.

The use of colour in Susperia as well as set design are the stand out part of the film. While the acting and story is subpar and basic. The acting isn't the best and the audio is barely audible under the movie's loud soundtrack that Argento proudly has playing at every important moment in the film to the point were probably the best way to watch the film is with subtitles turned on. It is obvious that he took a lot more care into how the film looks, over the quality of the plot, example being the very first murder which full of clever rigging and a great set up from the visuals to the sound effects of the thunderstorm, making the killing of the 2 girls impactful for the rest of the movie. "Thunderstorms and extraordinarily grotesque murders pile up as Argento happily abandons plot mechanics to provide a bravura display of his technical skill." (Scott Meek, Timeout London)

The set design makes this film memorable just for how bold it is, it's not like other films of the same genre and type, It doesn't rely on common horror sets, which are usually dark and dismal, instead utilising bold patterns and colours through out the film up until the secret hallway and the witches room instead the dance school which use more muted golds and blacks. The scenes shot outside the school such as pub Daniel's in after being fired and the university Suzy goes to visit Frank Mandal, use a more realistic colour scheme then the more fantastical colour scheme of the school. A key colour of the school is red, the colour accommodating the song "Goblin" as Suzy leaves the airport, is red. "Argento works so hard for his effects—throwing around shock cuts, colored lights, and peculiar camera angles—that it would be impolite not to be a little frightened." (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader)


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