Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: David Kajganich
Producer: Gabriele Moratti, William Sherak, Silvia Venturini Fendi, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Marco Morabito, Bradley J. Fischer
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper, Chloe Grace Moretz
In 1977 Berlin, a young American dancer uncovers a conspiracy involving witchcraft inside an exclusive dance academy.
For some, “Suspiria” 1977 remains such a sacrosanct horror hallmark, the mere thought of rebooting, refreshing, or doing anything other than casting Dario Argento’s modern masterpiece in idolatrized gold is tantamount to unspeakable blasphemy. Even though director Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 reimagining becomes its own bloodily beautiful beast, this skin-deep review nevertheless feels the need to address that notion by first executing the elephant in the room.
“Suspiria” 2018 does not exist because of perceptions of deficiency or even antiquation in the original. Rather, Guadagnino envisions David Kajganich’s succulent script with one eye of wondrous admiration for Argento’s accomplishments while the other plots an alternate path with unique style. By not allowing its reverence to forge a shackle, “Suspiria” emerges as the absolute best kind of remake in that it functions as a complementary companion, not a supplanting surrogate.
The story’s major strokes mostly stay the same. Following the death of her mother on their family’s farm in Ohio, bright-eyed Susie Bannion arrives in 1977 Berlin to audition for the famed Helena Markos Dance Company. Susie’s unbridled talent wins her swift admission. More importantly, her passionate presence earns the immediate attention of artistic director Madame Blanc.
The troupe needs a new dancer. Previous performer Patricia hasn’t been seen since she made mad claims that the academy is secretly run by a conspiratorial coven. Psychotherapist Dr. Klemperer diagnoses her as delusional. But after Patricia vanishes under suspicious circumstances, both he and Susie begin treading two trails leading to similarly insidious destinations.
Susie seemingly comes cut from a clichéd cloth of beauteous bumpkin stitched from crisscrossed threads of ambition and naivety. That deceiving impression launches her arc’s trajectory at dizzying angles when she develops into a complex creature. Dakota Johnson brings her mother Melanie Griffith to mind most with this particular performance, presenting the appearance of a vacantly malleable mannequin while quietly packing powder keg potency for unanticipated action. Like “Suspiria” itself, Susie/Johnson projects imagery to concurrently conflict and complement the context of her characterization for dark duality that’s eerily enchanting.
It’s arguable whether or not Susie truly is our lifeline through the movie. Dr. Klemperer offers a more consistent anchor, although stringing him on a separate thread from what’s happening at the dance studio keeps his role’s relevance shadowed for so long, jumps to his side story can be jarring.
Yet with Tilda Swinton making Klemperer almost as fascinating as her primary personality Madame Blanc, the doctor comes across no less captivating as a character. To that effect, the old man makeup used to transform Swinton sublimely stuns with awesome authenticity. If Swinton’s voice were masculine, the illusion of ‘Lutz Ebersdorf’ being a different actor might give even the most astute perceptions pause.
Having Swinton play two people is far from the only creative choice yielding mixed results. Other questionable moves made by Luca Guadagnino often involve curious angles or odd edits.
A thin film of slight sleaze occasionally accompanies camera placement to induce immersion-breaking discomfort that doesn’t appear intentional. Final performance notwithstanding, dance rehearsal segments aren’t specifically sexualized. So it seems exploitive to put the camera down behind Dakota Johnson or Mia Goth when they’re bending over with knees and noses on the floor. It’s like the lens tries sneaking illicit peeks under the guise of happenstance positioning when in actuality, no details about “Suspiria’s” construction are incidental.
Never mind unmotivated whip pans or sudden cuts to unimportant props. Is a close-up of urine splashing the bottom of a plastic collection cup really necessary when Susie already pulled down her underwear and sat on a toilet in the same scene? I can’t tell if Gudagnino’s intentions in certain cases are to slightly unsettle or if he genuinely feels these cutaways are crucial to establishing exposition.
Such conflicts create small shames. For instance, “Suspiria” provokes provocative philosophy when Klemperer muses that a delusion shared by multiple people is no different than a religion. But Susie also compares the elation of primal dancing to an inference of bestiality. Alternations between introspection and outspoken shock may mean to disorient the viewer, but do just as much to unbalance the atmosphere.
Guadagnino takes two and a half hours to explore the same space Argento covered in 60 fewer minutes. The film actually doesn’t feel overlong as a whole, though scenes such as the public “Volk” performance and extended epilogue feel their length during those individual moments. A fresh-eyed editor could probably get one cut closer to a smoother flow by culling indulgent bits, in the process eliminating material momentarily off-putting for the wrong reasons.
Because when “Suspiria” 2018 is off-putting for the right reasons, it can be every bit as unnerving as “Suspiria” 1977, even though Guadagnino and his collaborators take a deeper under-the-skin approach to suspense. Whereas no one could accuse Argento’s lush lighting schemes or Goblin’s iconic score that literally screams the word “witch!” of being subtle, “Suspiria” 2018 tempers tension with more mesmeric moods. Wicked whispers accent aural ambiance. Thom Yorke’s hypnotic music calculatingly casts a slow spell. The bleak coldness of the Berlin backdrop is equally exquisite to look at as the original’s settings, but in a macabre manner that seeps into the mind as much as it does the eyes.
Being effective at suggestively setting stages for nightmarish surrealism makes the frenzied flip into the finale all the more astonishing. “Suspiria” features an unforgettable ending whose visual vividness transfixes with terror. Act Six alone erases a fair amount of unfavorable impressions with a takeaway taste highlighting the film’s distinct tonal horror.
Even bearing a bevy of imperfections, “Suspiria” fires on numerous frequencies more meaningful than the ones that only flicker. Powerful performances, bountiful production design, and engrossing fiction count among elements magnetizing audience eyes.
Multifaceted on many levels, “Suspiria’s” density demands, yet earns, repeat viewings to uncover all of its secrets and to divine every thematic thread. One time around the block seems insufficient to fully grasp every unspoken fear of change, identity, oppression, and empowerment, but the first watch still does not feel like an incomplete experience.
Intangible elements open to interpretation are such peripheral support that mild confusion enhances the quality of dreamy witchiness without detracting from engagement in the narrative. Regardless of subjective opinion, “Suspiria” inspires conversations concerning content, intent, and effect worthy of extensive dissection by serious and armchair students of genre cinema alike. For myriad reasons, “Suspiria” can be an exhausting experience. It can also be an exhilarating one on those exact same grounds.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 75