Suspiria (2018)

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Direction: Luca Guadagnino
Country: Italy / USA

Italian Luca Guadagnino, auteur of powerful films such as I Am Love (2009) and the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name (2017), makes his first move in the horror genre with a botched remake of Dario Argento’s 70s cult film Suspiria. Working from a screenplay by David Kajganich, who has previously worked with the director in A Bigger Splash (2015), Guadagnino had a gifted cast at his disposal, featuring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton as protagonists, and Mia Goth and Angela Winkler in strong supporting roles.

The fiction takes place in 1977 Berlin, to where Ohio-born Susie Bannion (Johnson) moves definitely in order to join the prestigious international dance academy headed by the sinister Madame Blanc (one of the three roles of the amazing Swinton). Two influential dancers, Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Olga Ivanova (Elena Fokina), left the school psychologically affected with recondite occurrences. The former is missing; the latter was victimized by an invisible entity with virulent dance impulses. In the sequence of their absences, Suzie becomes the new protégé of the inscrutable, vampirelike Blanc. She can feel a dark force pushing her while working in the dance room and regularly affecting her dreams.

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Practically speaking, the school is under the orders of a witch society, a rare phenomenon that piques the curiosity of Dr. Klemperer (Swinton), an experienced psychotherapist who started to pay better attention to what his patient Patricia kept saying. He decides to visit the premises after meeting with the incredulous Sara (Mia Goth), one of the dancers and Patricia’s best friend. What he finds is as much bizarre as it is inextricable: esoteric rituals filled with magic, possession, and illusion.

The geometric architectonic configurations and muted colors that compose the 35mm-shot frames are relevant and propitious to the film’s ambitions; however, Guadagnino’s practices are overlong, stiff, and risibly gory in the final minutes. I got numb-brained while trying to understand why a director of this caliber would want to spoil the enchanting gothic tones previously created with a nasty sequence of human heads blowing up in blood.

Suspiria is mediocre at its best, presenting very little substance and lacking interesting character development. The songs by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke provide short moments of pleasure in a film to be quickly erased from memory.

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Okja (2017)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Country: USA / South Korea

Idolized Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“Memories of Murder”, “Mother”, “Snowpiercer”) teams up with co-writer Jon Ronson (“Frank”) and gives life to “Okja”, a big American-Korean production featuring an excellent cast composed of Hollywood stars such as Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun.

This polychromatic fantasy with dramatic lure begins with the wealthy, inhumane, and eccentric Lucy Mirando (Swinton) giving a conference in which she explains her eco-friendly plans to develop a super pig in 26 different countries. The new species is announced for 10 years from then and will be genetically created by a group of top scientists headed by Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal), also a famous TV presenter known as ‘the very healthy guy’. 

The Korean super pig (likely a cross between a pig and a hypo) was baptized Okja and lives happily in the secluded mountains with the old farmer (Byun Hee-Bong) who raised it and his young granddaughter Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun), with whom it developed an everlasting friendship.

The resolute Mija heads alone to Seoul after Okja has been selected as the best pig and taken to the sophisticated Mirando Corp. Building for lab tests before a pompous public presentation on New York's Broadway.

The rescue of her best friend couldn’t have been possible without the help of five efficient activists from the Animal Liberation Front, whose leader, Jay (Dano), is totally aware of the greediness and psychopathic history of the Mirandos.

Their plan consists in unmasking the scam engendered by Lucy, who even pays to reunite Mija and Okja in front of the TV cameras. Even succeeding on this front, they still have to deal with her evil twin sister, Nancy, and drive the animal home, safely.
 
The film guarantees a great deal of entertainment through superb action scenes and a handful of thrilling moments. Even fictitious, we can’t help caring about the animals and the grueling treatment they are subjected to at the slaughterhouse. However, the humor lacks spirit and is confined to a couple situations when Okja defecates like rain drops and farts with a reverberant sound.

Released on Netflix and executive produced by Brad Pitt, this dramatic and satirical action-packed adventure aims at animal exploitation, rapaciousness, media attention, and consumerism with a critical eye. Nevertheless, Mr. Joon-ho, with all his talent, was unable to reach the same levels of satisfaction delivered in his much more gripping previous films.

As expected, Ms. Swinton is sensational as the villainess, while the cinematography by Darius Khondji, who also did a great job this year in James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z”, is a major asset, making use of the light in the best possible ways, whether on establishing shots, medium shots, or very detailed close-ups.