Passion (2012)

Written & Directed by Brian De Palma

So I recently watched a YouTube video of Edgar Wright, “What’s In My Bag” in which he mentioned a Brian De Palma film I had never heard of before. Having studied Carrie for my horror module last year, I thought I was pretty confident in all things De Palma related. Turns out this film was only released in 2012/13 and is a remake of the French film Crime d’amour. So I searched Netflix and lo and behold, it streams the film I was looking for. Passion.

Starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace (a collaboration of two of my all-time favourite actresses), Passion is a tale of lust, revenge and bloody murder.  All of my favourite things in one film, the Film Gods must have been looking down on me that night. It starts as a tale of two business associates with very clear sensual underlying chemistry, a forceful Blonde, Rachel McAdams’ Christine, in which she channels some of the old Regina/ Mean Girls evilness, and Noomi Rapace’s Isabelle a quiet underling whose sanity comes into question, just as she comes into her own. It begins as a tale of a ball busting executive taking credit for an assistant’s work, harmless enough unless you bring into that adultery, psychosis and, my old favourite, cold bloody murder.

As a Brian De Palma film, not only do you expect to be presented with the lustful male gaze, but the lustful male gaze intricately hidden through incredible camera work and editing decisions such as the split screen of a Ballet and beautifully choreographed throat slashing, as well as the “was it a dream or was it real” sequences which is one of my favourite directorial motifs of De Palma. As a De Palma fan, you will not be disappointed.

De Palma’s focus on the two, possibly even three, female leads is refreshing, these women do not need men to help with their plans, men are used and abused then thrown to the dogs. I may sound a bit harsh on the male gender here, but as it is directed by a man, and therefore supposed to be viewed this way, I think I should be forgiven. These are two/three beautifully complicated characters in the male orientated world of work, for which Brian De Palma should be praised, he has characterised his women perfectly.

If you are going to watch this film for anything, do it for the anticipation of the tiniest bit of blood so beautifully put on the screen that it is as if De Palma has inverted his 1976 masterpiece, Carrie, proving he can create the same reaction without going to the extremes. If I could some this film up in two words it would be Subtly Beautiful. Or Complete Mind-fuck. You make the decision.

Suspiria (1977)

suspiria header

Directed byDario Argento

Written by Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi

A film set in a German Ballet academy, directed by an Italian film maker and spoken in the English language is bound to have a mixture of influences, but what struck me about Suspiria is the cinematic influence it has had on many of my personal favourite films. Never has a film reminded me so much of so many others. The story, although long and a bit slow, is clearly a classic tale of good and evil, with an American student travelling halfway around the world to study her passion at a dance academy when some strange occurrences start happening . After a gruesome death reminiscent of the slasher genre, the story follows Suzy as she struggles to fit into the academy, whilst trying to ignore the signs of things not being quite right in her new residence. Inspired by such gothic stories as those of the Grimm Brothers, this film uses many horror conventions to send shivers down your spine.

Suspiria reminded me of some of its contemporary films such as Carrie (1976) with the significance of blood to the story as well as later films such as The Shining (1980) through the use of a red setting, like the blood red of The Shining’s Bathroom scene, and the red exterior of the academy in Suspiria, giving a bloody first impression of the place. This visual choice by Argento gives the ominous effect of the supernatural, making it seem as if the walls are dripping with blood, clinging to the setting as the centre of the haunting atmosphere. The cinematography and tinkling music in an interesting non dialogue scene where the blind piano player walks through the town is also reminiscent of the famous Tubular Bells walk near the start of The Exorcist (1973). The similarities extend to the foreboding elements that the two scenes suggest and the suspense, the waiting for something to happen, the tense atmosphere just waiting to be released through a scare or shock. This era of American cinema has to be one of my favourites, and this film fits so well into that category, amongst some of the best horror films of all time, it seems it’s only a matter of time until its remade by some Hollywood studio, as is happening to all truly great horror films, no doubt with Chloe Moretz playing a lead role.

To me it also seems to have influenced more modern films such as the quick editing style of Edgar Wright, the suspense caused by it, the almost waiting to be scared through contrasting this with long takes of the country side, again, waiting for something to happen. It also has such images as this …

… devil’s snare anyone?

Although not the most imaginative of narratives or endings (without giving too much away), the cinematography, editing and just composition of everything are amazing, I have never seen anything like it, never watched a film and been in complete awe of the visual aspects of it. The way everything is placed on the screen, how one shot suggestively slides into another, the narrative, which I always focus on, comes second in my eyes to this astounding artistic piece of cinema. There’s one particular shot in which a glass of wine is being drunk, the deep red matches the almost black background of the door, in deep focus, it’s like the wine is pouring into or away from it. There are so many shots like this; I’ll be amazed if you can’t find just one shot that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

There isn’t much focus on the dancing aspect of this film as it is a horror not a musical, but one of my favourite scenes is that of Suzy, dancing on point (dancing term for standing on the tips of your toes), feeling faint and staggering, still on point and then her falling from such a height. Seeing this from a high angle, the helplessness of her is presented. After which a close up on her face reveals pinky-red blood dripping from her nose. One of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. The utter helplessness of our protagonist fighting against the music to dance, a stark contrast with how the other girls are dancing, shows the significance of her to the story, her inability to fit in, to keep up could possibly save her.

It’s so difficult to explain just how enchanting the composition of this film is without watching it. So that’s my advice to you. Watch this film, guaranteed you will be as lost for words as I was when I first saw it, which Is why I took so long to write this review. It’s difficult to put into words just how chilling and mesmerising and tense this film is. Not necessarily scary but you will get a few jumps out of this, but mainly the effect of the film is the fear of the jumps that you Argento takes his time setting up. You will not be disappointed.