This imperiously matriarchal film is a remake of the 1977 Dario Argento film with Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) at the helm. Guadagnino reunites with Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, whom he directed in the 2015 film, ‘”A Bigger Splash.”
Let’s get right down to it.
I found myself in Greenbelt 3 watching this movie a total of four times over four days, with each viewing leaving me with mixed feelings. I first saw it with my mother, and then twice alone (in the interest of concentration), and, finally, with a friend whom I could bounce ideas. Social media’s reaction of the film is also polarizing, at least in my Facebook’s comments’ section. Some friends praised it, while acclaimed playwright Floy Quintos pointedly said he was sorry for even watching the film as it was pretentious and self-indulgent. Meanwhile, after watching it four times, I still am grasping at straws to articulate how I feel about the movie.
The movie starts with Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) frantically knocking on Dr. Klemperer’s door. Klemperer, a psychiatrist, notices an unhinged Hingle, but dismisses her panic and mania as mere delusions. Hingle disappears in short order, arousing Klemperer’s suspicions.
Enter Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) a small town ingenue with prodigious dancing skills from a Mennonite farm in Ohio. Susie finds herself in Madame Markos’ Dancing School in Berlin. Helena Markos is the school’s headmistress whose presence is never seen by the students. Susie seems to share an almost telepathic connection with the school’s creative director and de facto headmistress, the austere yet majestic Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) who senses her presence and audition in one of the mirrored dancing rooms and shows up. They have a performance called Volk (The People) in which Hingle was the lead, but Hingle had since vanished. A Soviet dancer, Olga was chosen to replace Hingle, but Olga was so distraught at her friend’s disappearance that she decided to quit–though not without calling Blanc and the other teachers “witches.”
Susie volunteers to dance the lead role, claiming to have seen the performance at least a hundred times. As Olga attempts to leave the dance school, she finds herself locked in the same mirrored room where Susie auditioned. As she began to dance, her movements seemed to have a direct and violent effect on Olga as she got twisted, contorted to the point of breaking bones and rupturing viscera, and flung from the room like a rag doll chained to her moves. Her star quickly rises, enough for Madame Blanc to take notice and take her under her wing. You can see that Susie is being groomed for something and even she senses and recognizes it.
It is clear from the outset that a deeper malevolent violence haunts the school’s halls and only gets more terrifying and unsettling as Susie descends deeper in the coven’s rabbit hole.
Guadagnino’s rendition of the film is gorgeous yet paradoxically and unrepentant in its grotesqueness. It explores themes of matriarchal power, women empowerment, and the violence women commit against each other. It feels feminist and anti-feminist at the same time. The film seems to do away with patriarchy with an all-female cast, but the token male character (cleverly played by Swinton herself under miles of makeup) plays a pivotal role as a witness to a witch’s Sabbat, as if events can only be validated with a man as a witness. Susie was not there to play the ingenue, nor the film’s heroine.
The movie was skillfully done and gets under your skin. It disturbs you for a few days, but Guadagnino’s attempt tell multiple stories and explore multiple themes within the film which can both be confusing and overwhelming for viewers, especially on a protracted running time of 152 minutes. The movie requires endurance, since it’s a slow-burn with a bleak and somber atmosphere, I fell asleep during the second half which prompted me to watch it again.
I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars.