Coinciding with the memorable movie deaths of 2018, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria showcases a body count in its final act that is as wholly macabre as it is a final reach of peace. Beyond the solemn release and explosive condemnation of many in the catacombs of the Helena Markos Dance Company, there is so much to unpack as Suspiria shows the cruelty and violence of woman as well as her warm, regretful embrace. The final dance of Suspiria is a bloodbath inflicted by mother proportions.
As Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannon enters the innermost sanctum of the dance school, she is greeted by flailing bodies in choreographed, unconscious dance. Each body part and movement are absolutely in sync, as the billowing chants fill the colorless tomb. Lining the walls are the mistresses of the studio, draped in robes unlike the naked bodies of their students. It’s here that Tilda Swinton’s Madam Blanc—one of three characters she plays in the scene—feels something isn’t right. A grotesque, fleshly laden Madame Markos goads Susie on, to deliver herself to the dance. Susie reveals herself to be Mother Suspiriorum, and in doing so unleashes a hellish reckoning juxtaposed by the tenderness she relates to a select few.
Guadagnino’s incarnation of Suspiria is one of the most polarizing films of the year, likely due to this elaborate sequence that never surrenders to comfort its audience. Susie unleashes her rage upon the women who would turn against their own and calls upon Death. As if the film couldn’t push itself to be more perverse and violent, Death appears, lean and tall, wizened by dried, black tar. Extending herself to each vessel of betrayal, heads explode, and chaos is unleashed. Bodies that were once in unison depart and flail uncontrollably still without consciousness. The camera, the walls, every inch of the frame becomes drowned in blood. Adding a further grueling atmosphere is the filter of a lurid red.
Chants of a ritual are changed out for piercing screeches. Running through their final resting place, the witches of the dance academy seek a way out, knowing their betrayal can only mean a painful death. But there is no escape. Like the cyclical, inherited memory of women, once death is summoned to do the bidding of her mistress, there is no escape of the explosive end.
Guadagnino has made one of the most astonishing, pulverizing scenes of the year. Enclosing powerful women into a room, the most inherent qualities of their being is on full display. While chaos reigns and warped bodies cascade across the screen as their blood is let and heads burst, there exists the fervent presence is of woman’s ability to simultaneously contort cruelty and offer tender release.
Susie opens her own unholy, bodily temple to create a bloody vaginal opening at her chest. Set across the haunting piano melody of Thom Yorke’s “Unmade,” Susie approaches what’s left of the ravaged bodies of Patricia, Olga, and Sara. She asks each girl what she desires. It is death and they are granted leave of the world in the arms of a Mother.
The dance wields a powerful omen: beware the cruelty of women. It’s a juxtaposition made throughout the film that culminates in such a blood-spattered frenzy you can’t help but take it for its word. When all is said and done, the dance feels like a fever-nightmare. It’s a twitching and pulsating infected wound left to fester.
The women who now know the power of Mistress Suspiriorium are left to dispose of the pile of bodies and scrub the blood and sin from the sanctum’s floors and walls. The casualties of the cleansing are innumerable, as their bodies are tossed to the side. But for Guadagnino, the carnage is more than just the terror of the grizzly and visceral disgust. The film’s final dance serves as an apex to the cruel world outside of the dance academy and the women who seek out a way to adapt, to find a new vessel for their leader. In the shadow of Helena Markos Dance Company, these witches try to simply exist in a world being damaged just outside their door with escalating political upheaval and men of authority seemingly unphased by it all. The blood be speckled skin of the survivors only allows us one solace: that compassion must endure lest cruelty reign. No other creature on earth is capable of impregnating the world with such qualities as women.
In a year of memorable on-screen character deaths and deadly sequences, none quite punctuate the category as Suspiria does. It’s an ending that leaves one on either side of the rigorously revolted spectrum; either shielding one’s eyes and contorting the face to hold down bile or relishing in the gore of death’s violent and tender release, awaiting a tub of menstrual blood and scented candles with accents of rotting flesh of male enemies to welcome you home.