FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 29, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 29: sie sind hexen

I admit it, in my early viewings of this film, my feelings about the opening scene were tainted by my feelings about Chloë Grace Moretz. Basically, I have never been blown away her acting, at least not since she was much younger (she was great on 30 Rock and I thought she was the best part of the Let the Right One In remake...oh and Clouds of Sils Maria.). I think I was too "Why does she get all the roles? She's not the only actor around that age! Why not Anya Taylor-Joy?" You know, just bein' an old horror blogger yelling at a cloud. While I certainly didn't think she was bad as Patricia or that she stunk up the joint, I did feel that she was the weak link in a movie where everyone is doing, like, accolades-worthy work.

But hot dang! Watching it again (and again) (and ag--) during this month of insanity has me saying "Shut up, old horror blogger! You don't know nothin'!" The opening scene (and especially Moretz) really set the tone for what's to come and boy, we're knocked off-balance right from the start.

We hear the rain–that incessant Berlin rain–and running feet and chanting over a black screen, then we see Patricia, alone in the middle of a riot.

She seems terribly frightened. We'll soon learn that she's afraid of Helena Markos, but she's also afraid of the chaos around her: the yelling, the violence, the smoke bombs. This reaction is, I think, what has Olga so sure later on that Patricia isn't in a basement somewhere filling bottles with petrol. Patricia may have romanticized or admired the RFA, but she wasn't a terrorist. She's not joining in here, and Olga knows that Patricia isn't "missing" by choice.

Patricia bursts into Klemperer's office with a bang and a purpose, pounding on the door and the doorbell madly while softly singing bits of Nico's melancholic "Fairest of the Seasons" to herself. (Side note: What is it with witches' affinities for Nico tracks? Her song with The Velvet Underground, "All Tomorrow's Parties" figured very heavily into Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem.)

Dr. Klemperer immediately senses that Patricia is in some kind of spiral, and so do we. It's not only Patricia's mutterings and physicality, though that's a large part of it. Unceremoniously dropping her bags and shoes, folding and unfolding herself on the furniture and windowsill...she is a live wire, vaguely menacing, maybe a bit dangerous, and Klemperer gives her a wide berth.

What's notable is that the editing is frantic as well. Much of Suspiria comprises long takes, whether it's a closeup of a character or a complex set piece. This gives actors time to shine and lets the audience soak in every detail. Even the horrific scenes tend to be full of long takes–we're forced to see and hear every snap of Olga's bones, every unnatural bend and stretch of her limbs. But this office scene, particularly in its earliest moments, is a rapid-fire series of shots. Closeups of hair and hands and books upon books, up high and down low...we can't catch our breath and it feels claustrophobic. You start to feel like Patricia's madness is leaking out from the screen.

Also, one of those closeups is on Klemperer's biscuit and while I know European food can be...austere, shall we say (probably more so for those who lived through war rationing)...this is clearly the unappealing kind of food that A Very Serious Man would eat.

Right? That thing tells us that this doctor is not going to truck with Patricia's fancies. He's not enjoying an apple or something, he's much more utilitarian than that. It looks like he may have just ripped of a part of his desk for lunch.

And so when Patricia outright calls the women of Markos Tanzgruppe "witches," he is taken aback. The moment is very subtly punctuated by a few quiet, ominous notes of music and an explosion outside.

"And you think they can hear you now?"

Patricia gives a small nod and we cut to the hallway, which is dark and sinister and the whispers begin.

Back in the office, the whispers continue as we get shots of random corners and objects. It reminds me of the series of shots at the end of John Carpenter's know, after Dr. Loomis looks down in the yard but Michael Myers is gone. Carpenter points the camera at all kinds of dark corners and we hear Michael breathing. That movie ends leaving the audience feeling like the Boogeyman could be anywhere, while Suspiria begins that way. No matter what Klemperer thinks, no matter if he's decided that Patricia is we know that she's right about the Matrons and they're here.

"Now she can see me," Patricia whispers, and by this point we're feeling mighty unsettled. So is Patricia, who notices that there are eyes everywhere in the room and promptly sets about covering them up. It definitely seems like she's in the middle of a major mental break, but she ain't wrong. Not only do we hear the whispers; one of the eyes on a book spine certainly echoes the all-seeing eye in Helena Markos's room in the 1977 film.

In the midst of this sudden chaos, Patricia inadvertently damages a photograph of Anke. This is what gets Klemperer on his feet at last, and the tenderness and reverence he shows are so wonderful. We don't know the story of the woman in the photo yet, but we immediately know how important and loved she is–or was. While he certainly doesn't care about enjoying some goddamn flavor with his lunch, he cares greatly for her, still.

It also makes him a bit angry, doesn't it? He seems like he's going to give his wayward patient a dressing down, but he holds back. In fact, he has offered her nothing the entire time she's been there, except perhaps an open ear. No advice, no soothing words, nothing. What can he offer, I suppose? She seems to have completely lost touch with reality and likely needs hospitalization. But he doesn't suggest it and Patricia makes to leave.

When she gets to the door she stops. She's a bit calmer, but clearly terrified of what the Matrons will do to her if–when–they find out she talked to him. She briefly rests her head on his chest, maybe as a final goodbye. Although Klemperer doesn't move, it's the last moment of comfort Patricia will get in this life.

I wonder what people who knew nothing about either version of Suspiria thought of Patricia in this scene. Did they simply think she was mad? Or did they buy in to her "delusions"? Even though a year ago I wasn't super into her performance, I never doubted her for a second. If she's mad, it's because they made her that way. Sie sind Hexen and they are everywhere.


Matt said...

Thank you for your service to Dakotastan and Mother Suspiriorum, this has been an enlightening month of Final Girl Film School. My Halloween night plans are to sit in the dark with my dog, eating pizza and watching Suspiria, with all of your thoughts fresh in my head.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks, Matt! Hmm it's like a really long-winded commentary track in a way, I suppose. Hope it ultimately enhances your viewing experience a bit :)

Unknown said...

The past few viewings I've been skipping the beginning because I initially thought it was cringey. I am now converted, you are right, she does set up so much to come. I suppose it's the kind of crazy that befalls someone who has been told too much.