January 3, 2019 – This is a tale of the occult, based on an 1977 Italian film of the same name, that seems only slightly believable. Then there area a couple of bat poop crazy scenes that make “The Exorcist” seem pretty tame.
A young dancer, Susie Bannion (played by Dakota Johnson of those “Fifty Shades” movies) from America travels to West Berlin in 1977 in hopes of studying under famed dance choreographer, Madame Blanc (played by Tilda Swinton of “Doctor Strange” and Swinton also plays Dr. Josef Klemperer in this film). Rumors swirl that the Markos Dance Academy Susie joins is run by a coven of witches.
Susie actually sees these Academy witches in control of some policemen who come to investigate the Academy, but she sticks around anyway. The reason for her lack of concern about the strange goings on at the Academy become clear later in the film. One of these events involves a dancer, Olga (Elena Fokina) preparing to leave the Academy in protest. She ends up horribly mutilated during a dance (mutilated in rhythm to the music) and dies.
There is a fantasy in this movie of three witches in particular, dubbed the Three Mothers, a trinity of primal witches from ancient times, Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mother Suspiriorum. The idea seems to be that these three witches from pre-Christian paganism still exist, either through reincarnation, possession or rejuvenation through human sacrifice, and that at least some of them are here in this Academy coven. One of the coven will attain special powers at an upcoming ceremony.
Meanwhile, psychotherapist Josef Klemperer has grown suspicious about the disappearance of several women at the Academy after reading the journal of one of the missing woman, Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz of “Let Me In”) who was also his patient. He contacts one of Patricia's friends, Sara (Mia Goth of “A Cure for Wellness”) who also happens to be a friend of Susie. Sara begins poking around the secret passages in the Academy and finds really weird, creepy stuff.
This movie, like many horror films, is filled with strange ceremonies, sacrifices, and gallons and gallons of blood spewed around. The climax of all this is a spectacular, and totally crazy and unbelievable ceremony. It turns out that several people are not who they seem to be, not that I really cared by that point. This is sort of thing that works better as a comedy, because then the viewer is not expected to take it seriously.
The story, mainly about the relationship between Madame Blanc and Susie, is a bit like those well-worn tales of palace intrigue where people try to get close to the king or queen in order to wield power, except here, the power is supernatural. Like royalty, it is power one is born with, not earned. It also reminded me a bit of that other crazy movie about dance, “Black Swan” (2010).
If you really like horror films, this is not a bad one. The acting is good and the story is complex. I'd have to watch it a few more times to catch all those early hints about people who aren't what they seem to be, but once is enough for me. I had no idea that Tilda Swinton was playing a man here, but then again, she's done it before. She has a talent for playing really offbeat characters.
There is a kind of socially redeeming scene at the end of the film, and I am not talking about the post-credits scene. It indicates there is a bit of humanity, even among witches. The whole idea of pagan witches being involved in Satanic rituals is religious-based superstition, which is unfortunately reinforced in this film. I am left to wonder what the point of it is, other than to point out, one more time, that power corrupts people. This film rates a B.
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