Sunday, 3 January 2016

Film Review: Suspiria

Figure 1: Film poster
Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento. It tells the story of an American ballet dancer, Suzy Bannion, who travels to Germany to learn ballet in a renowned dance school, during her stay several girls go missing and strange happenings occur, Suzy soon begins to search throughout the building to discover what the teachers are hiding, and finds that the teachers are involved with supernatural powers and witches, Suzy barely escapes after destroying the head witch’s spirit Helena, and the academy is destroyed in a fire.

At the very beginning of the film, Suzy travels to the academy by a taxi and during this car ride, accompanied by rather dream-like music, multicoloured lights flash in through the window, reflecting through the ever pouring rain onto her window. This scene introduces a very dream-like, hallucinogenic theme which repeats later on throughout the film accompanied by the same music, usually played during the scenes which  the supernatural elements to the film. The taxi ride to the academy could be symbolic in representing something similar to Alice falling down the rabbit hole, transporting to a mythical land through a trance-like, confused state, of loud rain and music flashing through different unnaturally coloured lights. But unlike Alice her destination is just a dream, whereas Suzy’s is more nightmarish.

Figure 2: Suzy through the Taxi Window
This colourful lighting occurs at several intervals during the film, and commonly during the scenes which Suzy or Sarah are exploring the building and are coming into contact with the supernatural elements. The lighting works as a contrast to the saturated walls, and creates an unnatural nightmarish effect which symbolises the supernatural and unnatural occurrences which happen throughout the film, such as during the scene where Suzy is exploring a hallway of saturated pink and red walls, the lightning that flashes, a usually typical motif used in horror films, which normally would have been white or perhaps a light shade of yellow, is now a bright calypso blue, creating a great contrast against the red walls. Adam Smith (2015) says “The sets are bathed in garish red and green light (he acquired 1950s Technicolor stock to get the effect) giving the whole film a hallucinatory intensity.” Explaining that the Technicolor stock used to get this lighting effect not only creates a contrast throughout the film but also creates the hallucinogenic sense to the film.

Figure 3: Contrasting
Another scene which involves strange lighting is the beginning of the scene where Sarah is chased throughout the night by an unseen pursuer, the lighting has become once blue and pale red to a now neon green, which lights up the entire room, as she is chased the lighting and sets change again to a bright and saturated red, creating a panicked and fearful atmosphere throughout the chase. Only when Sarah reaches a ‘calm’ in the chase her scenery and lighting is now a cool less intense blue, that is until the moment she falls into the ocean of barbs as it has now become a fully intense cyan blue, the intense fear and struggle of escaping now facing an inevitable capture is portrayed through Sarah’s screams and also the intensity of the colour.

Figure 4: Sarah in green lighting

Figure 5: Sarah in intense blue lighting with barbs
As well as the lighting throughout the film being unnatural and saturated colours, so are the sets in which they contrast against, colours such as the outer shell of the academy is a bright red, the colour on its own symbolising danger or blood, which is dominant in the film frequently. Ed Gonzalez (2001) explores the idea that with each saturated coloured room, each different room becomes one on its own and creating contrasts, such as the bright red nosebleed Suzy has in the Yellow room, yellow possibly being a symbolism of sickness.

“Hallways are bathed in reds, yellows, and blues, and, in effect, different rooms in the school begin to take on a meaning all their own. Suzy meets the administrators in the garish Blue Room, where a grandiose staircase comes with a handrail made of golden snakes; Miss Tanner conducts her classes in the Red Room, where Suzy defends her right to live outside the school; and in the Yellow Room, her fainting spell gives way to a ravishing nosebleed.

As the colours used on sets are used as symbolism, they’re also used to help create the dream-like, psychedelic atmosphere throughout the film, Janet Maslin (1977) explains that these colours accompanied by the illusionistic patterns creates a surrealistic atmosphere, reiterating the idea of the film being very dream-based, in “He uses bright primary colors and stark lines to create a campy, surreal atmosphere”

Figure 6: Blood red academy walls
Figure 7: Optical illusion wall patterns

Nearly the entirety of the film is set in a brightly colour academy with unnaturally coloured lighting, collectively creating the psychedelic and surrealistic vision effect to the film and to Suzy’s experiences within the academy, the only times where Suzy escapes these confusing colours is when she is away from the building, once when she first gets off the plane in the first few moments of the film, and also when she learns about the existence of witches and their relation to the academy, creating the link between the mystical underbelly to the academy and the mystical colours the academy presents on its walls and lights.

Figure 8: Suzy in a mystical lights drenched on the curtains


Illustration List:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Danielle!

    Good discussion around the use of colour :)

    Be careful with your referencing of the quotes - the way you have done it at the moment, is ok if you are just paraphrasing, but if you include the quote, you should put the reference at the end (and then you don't need it at the beginning too). Also, in your bibliography, remember that the author's surname goes first, followed by the initial, and then the entries are ordered in alphabetical order, so in your case here -
    Gonzalez, E
    Maslin, J
    Smith, A