witchcraft

Suspiria (2018)

suspiria

Susie Bannion has left her home and family in rural Ohio to pursue her dream of joining a dance academy in Berlin. She has no formal training, yet her dancing captivates Madame Blanc, the headmistress, and she is allowed to join the academy. As the dancers train for a very special performance, strange and violent things begin to happen. Dancers have gone missing, and it seems more and more likely the women running the academy are the ones behind it all.

Screenwriter David Kajganich (The Terror) and director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) have taken the basic premise and characters created by Dario Argento (Suspiria 1977) and Daria Nicolodi (Suspiria 1977) and constructed something absolutely breathtaking. At it’s core, the film is about a dance school run by witches. This is really all the two films have in common. The story created by Kajganich and Guadagnino’s filming style diverge greatly from the original, so I will do my best not to constantly compare the two films.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Suspiria (2018) is how the filmmakers built upon the with mythology. The rules, the dynamics, the magic, and the history is meticulously created in a way that is familiar, yet there is a complexity that adds a sense of mystery to the film. Often times, the intrigue comes from the division among the witches. These witches have a long history that sprang from three witches known as the “mothers.” There is the group who believes Madame Blanc should be in charge, and there is a group who believes the unseen Helena Markos should continue her rule. The witches are using the dancers to work towards a specific goal, and they need Susie to reach that goal. Between some of the dancers putting the pieces together and the division between the witches, there is immediate suspense and tension that carries throughout the film.

The way dance is incorporated into the film is stunning. Suspiria (2018) focuses on contemporary/interpretive dance rather than ballet. It is a wise decision because it allows the filmmakers to bring new meaning into the dance being performed. It isn’t simply a performance the dancers are training for, it is a bigger end-game for the witches. All of the dancers move beautifully through the rehearsals and the final routine.

While the cast holds a couple actresses I have not been a fan of in the past, every single person shines in their own way. Probably the most surprising performance in the film is Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) as Susie Bannion. While her acting is fine, it’s her dancing that truly blew me away. The filmmakers took a risk hiring an actress over a dancer in such a dance-heavy role, but luckily it payed off. Johnson portrays Susie with a sort of naive grace that develops into something much more powerful, and it is amazing to watch. The standout performance comes from Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange) playing not one, not two, but three characters! While Swinton is amazing in each role, making them each distinctly unique characters even as she acts through layers of makeup and prosthetics, she is truly amazing as Madame Blanc. Similar to the portrayal of Susie, Madame Blanc has a graceful way about her, yet Blanc’s grace has much more power and authority to it. Swinton proves once again that she can play virtually any role and she is able to entirely transform into any character. The on-screen chemistry between Swinton and Johnson is electric, and their dynamics with the rest of the supporting cast is hypnotizing.

It is difficult to live up to Argento’s visuals, so Guadagnino made the wise decision to go in a different direction. Suspiria (2018) has a very stark palette lacking vibrant colors, which fits in well with the 1977 Berlin setting. The bright colors are instead replaced with bold patterns. The patterns can be found everywhere from the floors to the walls to the clothing. It creates striking and iconic imagery where the meticulous patterns feel reminiscent of the ritualistic choreography of the dances.

The bleak look of the film also goes well with the practical effects. These effects are used in a number of ways. The most prominent use is to turn Swinton into different characters, one of them an elderly man. Old age makeup alone is incredibly difficult to do well. Not only is the old age makeup in this film near-perfect, but it also transforms Swinton into a man. The effects are also used to produce some realistic and disturbing wounds, injuries, and gore. I was quite surprised by the brutality in certain scenes, and the practical effects in those scenes are sublime.

The film is only elevated by the astounding score by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The score is soft, mysterious, and often times includes sounds from the film itself. One piece, titled “Hooks,” is most notable for incorporating sounds from the film such as sighs, breathing, and the whoosh of hooks through the air (which will make sense if/when you see the film). Yorke also includes a couple songs in which he sings. These songs are especially haunting, and are used at integral scenes where the songs are the perfect accompaniment to the events taking place. I would imagine, after this success, that we will be hearing more of Yorke’s work as a composer of film scores.

Suspiria (2018) is a haunting and ethereal tale of witchcraft, mutilation, and death. Guadagnino and Kajganich were inspired by Suspiria (1977), but they were able to create something new and thrilling with this film. The expanded mythology lends itself to an intriguing plot that will keep audiences guessing. The entire cast of performers deliver stunning acting and dancing skills that mesmerize. Add to that the brilliant visual artistry, including the practical effects, and Yorke’s gorgeous score and the result is a disturbing and beautiful film. This is one you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The Witch

A religious family decides to leave the plantation town they call home because it does not meet their religious ideals. They venture out into the wilderness in order to create their own homestead and farm the land. Not long after the family settles into their new land the baby of the family gets taken, either by a wolf or something more sinister, and a blight takes over the crops. From that moment on the family falls into a downward spiral. Their lives become surrounded by the occult, and it will slowly tear them apart.

There were so many aspects of this film I loved it is hard to figure out where I should begin. I’ve always been fascinated by witchcraft in films. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find a quality horror film on the subject. The Witch not only brought an incredible amount of intensity and tension, but it also felt like you were watching something that could actually have happened. There were times while watching the film that I felt almost uncomfortable watching the events unfold. It felt very intimate to watch this family behind closed doors as they all unravel into hysteria. This intimacy made it feel almost as if you were intruding on their private life. You feel like you shouldn’t be watching, but you can’t look away. The story is definitely more of a slow burn rather than a scare-fest.

From the moment the film began and the music started to play there is instantly a feeling of unease. This tension builds throughout the film until the climax, thanks to the musical work by Mark Korven. What made the music so captivating is that it made a shot of a simple forest landscape seem dreadful and terrifying. Music can really make or break a film, and I can’t imagine this film would have been as haunting to me if it had any other score. The music, combined with the gorgeous cinematography, created such beautiful and ominous imagery.

This is probably one of the most well acted horror films I have seen in a while. Every single person, right down to the little twins, had a phenomenal performance. While everyone did a great job, there was one performance that stood out to me. Harvey Scrimshaw (Oranges and Sunshine) gave a powerful performance as the eldest son in the family, Caleb. During the scene where he is suffering from the effects of witchcraft, Scrimshaw was so haunting and intense that I was completely blown away. I was especially impressed when I learned this is only the second film he has ever been in. Anya Taylor-Joy (Viking Quest) also had a stand-out performance as the lead, Thomasin. Like Scrimshaw, this was only the second film Taylor-Joy had ever been in, and her first starring role. As the story unfolds and you can feel Thomasin being blamed for more and more troubles in the family, it is hard not to feel sympathetic towards her.

What I love about films like The Witch are the deeper meanings and metaphors that lurk within. As I watched this film, I saw it as showing the way young women in that deeply religious time could so easily be accused of being a witch. When things start to go bad in any size community, even a single family unit, everyone wants to put the blame on a single person. For Puritans that blame naturally fell on the young women, who were thought of as sinners simply because they were female. Thomasin gets blamed for everything from a cup that goes missing to the blight that overcomes their corn crop. She automatically gets accused because she is the eldest daughter and the only one that has gone through puberty, making her the only potential object of sexual desire. Just for that, she is a sinner and potentially even a witch.

I really can’t say enough how great this film really is. It is the kind of film that will appeal to many audiences because, while it has the overall occult theme, it is much more suspenseful than anything else. The Witch has amazing acting, haunting music, beautiful cinematography, and a compelling story. The only thing that bothered me a bit was there were times I had a hard time understanding what some of the characters were saying. This could be something that was a personal issue, but the combination of the accents and the old English dialogue made me lose some of what was said. I noticed this the most when the father (Ralph Ineson) spoke because he has such a deep, resonant voice. Other than that, it is difficult to find any fault. It is already a top contender for my favorite horror film of 2016. The Witch is a bone-chilling film of paranoia and dread that shows the wilderness is not the only thing to fear.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

 

Favorite Things: Halloween Horror Movies

Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. The change in leaves, the crisp air, the costumes, and of course the great horror movies. It only seemed fitting that for my blog’s first Halloween I do a list of some of my favorite horror movies that take place during Halloween. This list is in no particular order and range from classics to more recent favorites. Let’s begin…

Halloween (1978) 

This is probably the most obvious horror movie that takes place during Halloween, but it is also one of the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, some of my earliest horror movie memories are related to this film. It is a classic slasher flick that still sends chills down my spine, even though it’s been almost 40 years since its release. Jamie Lee Curtis really showed her acting abilities in this. She also has one of the best screams I have ever heard. She is by far one of my favorite “final girls.” Although I may be a bit biased because I think she and my mom look alike.

Honorable Mention: The 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is actually quite good. It stayed true to the original, while also adding quite a bit of back story on how Michael Myers became the iconic killer.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

This may be a slightly less popular choice, but this film definitely has a cult following. The Halloween movies were meant to be almost like an anthology series where each film focused on a different story taking place during the holiday. Many people likely went to the theater expecting to see another Michael Myers film. Because of this, the film did not do well at the box office. Since then it has become wildly popular with horror fans. I have to admit the first time I saw this movie I hated it. I have watched it a few times since then, and now it is definitely one of my favorite Halloween-themed films.

Trick r’ Treat

This is another film that has a huge cult following. I didn’t see this movie until several years after its release. When I finally watched it, I immediately fell in love. The film is done in an anthology style where all the stories are connected in some way. What makes this film so great is that it covers all the major themes you think of when you think of Halloween. The “main character” of the film, Sam, is great because he manages to be absolutely adorable and terrifying at the same time. This is very difficult to manage, and I still don’t understand how they did it. Trick r’ Treat really is a classic film that I now watch every year for Halloween.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps will forever be one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it takes place during Halloween just adds the icing to the cake. I find the main characters, Ginger and Brigitte, to be fascinating and complex characters. It’s also amazing the actresses are able to portray this complexity while also having to be regular teenage girls. Their bond throughout the film also draws me in. I will warn the men who are interested in seeing this film that the entire movie could be seen as one giant metaphor for a girl going through puberty, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. There is a lot of fun gore and practical effects, plus the script for this film is absolutely incredible.

Idle Hands

I know this is probably the most cheesy movie that will appear on this list. You might say it’s a ridiculous choice. Well, I don’t care. This movie cracks me up and has fun with horror. Plus the young nineties girl in me will forever be in love with Devon Sawa. I have always loved this film because it is hilarious and has copious amounts of gore. It is a film you can watch for Halloween if you want a healthy dose of horror accompanied by a fun and light-hearted tone. Idle Hands is a great Halloween horror choice for watching with a group of friends, especially if there are some in your group that don’t necessarily want to watch a scary movie.

The Houses October Built

This film only came out last year, but it has already made quite a name for itself. The most endearing quality of this film is that it examines why people love to be scared. It also delves into how extreme some people will go with those scares. It’s a great concept, and the cast is really fantastic. I’m sure this film will only grow in popularity over the years, much in the way that some of the previous cult classics I mentioned have. My only recommendation is to watch this after you go to a haunted house. If you watch it before, you just might change your mind.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is another one of my favorite horror films, and the film that made me fall in love with Rob Zombie as a director. It’s a unique story that got me within the first few minutes. This film is intense, bloody, and filled with insane characters. What I love most about the film (and the sequel) is that Zombie manages to create characters that are truly despicable, yet there is something about them that you can’t help but love. That takes true talent, especially when you see what these crazies like to do for Halloween (and on ever other day of the year). Watching this makes me want to be a part of the Firefly family. After watching the film, you will understand that this is not the most sane way to look at that family.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

Dark Summer

Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) has been put on house arrest after he was caught cyber-stalking a classmate. On his first day of house arrest, the girl he was stalking calls him over Skype and shoots herself. Soon after, strange things start to happen to Daniel. He is seeing things and he thinks that it all has to do with the girl who committed suicide. Daniel enlists the help of his friends to try to stop this malevolent entity before it’s too late.

Unfortunately there isn’t really anything good I can say about this film. In general, I thought the storyline was fairly original. It even had some twists in it that were well thought out and added to the story. The problem is that the pace of the film droned on to the point where the scenes that were supposed to be intense and scary didn’t have the intended effect. If I didn’t think this movie was scary while watching it in my place alone, then it really was not even remotely frightening. It really is unfortunate, because had it been done a different way it could have been scary and there were multiple elements to the plot that I found very clever.

The acting was by no means bad. Keir Gilchrist proved that he is a good actor in the film It Follows. In this movie he was perfectly fine, but it didn’t feel like he was truly in fear for his life at any point during the film. Probably the best performance came from Stella Maeve (Chicago P.D.). Especially during the climax of the film, her performance was completely believable.

The effects in the film were well done. In terms of the CGI effects, they were generally understated. Most of the CGI was used to create a few bugs, but those bugs were very well done and looked pretty realistic. Beyond that, a majority of the CGI was used to create a psychedelic acid trip look to a few of the scenes. The practical effects looked good as well. Again, these were simple, understated effects that consisted mostly of prosthetics on the skin for various injuries. Both the practical and CGI effects were used in moderation which in a film like this it was definitely the best way to go.

It’s really hard to find more to say about this film because my general reaction to it was just “meh.” It was a unique idea and I feel like if I read it as a book, I would have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately it wasn’t executed well in movie form. It was just generally boring and not even remotely scary at any point in time. I don’t blame the actors for this, because they all did well. This is not a movie I would recommend, which is unfortunate because there were aspects that could have resulted in a great movie, but they definitely missed the mark. I apologize if this review was rather boring, but I suppose that’s what happens when you have nothing really good or really bad to say about a movie.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10