Suspiria is not a film to have mild feelings about. Like Darren Aronofsky’s mother, Luca Guadagnino’s remake/reimagining arrives in Venice as a work of gonzo, philosophically minded horror that all but demands boos and hatred, safe in the knowledge that it will also win a cult-like love. It exists on a plane of reality quite outside of our own, where pagan and Christian demons collide for tremble-inducing fear and explosions of unbelievable violence.
Guadagnino keeps the key ingredients – hysteria, witches – of Dario Argento’s original, but his take is an entirely different beast. The colours are muted, the run time extended by a full hour, and the action moved to a modern dance company in Cold War Berlin. A lot of the camera work is still 100% ‘70s horror, but Guadagnino otherwise isn’t interested in cleaving close to the past.
As ingénue dancer Susie (Dakota Johnson) falls deeper and deeper under the spell of artistic director and powerful witch Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), ever more horrific things start occurring at the institution. Guadagnino crafts stomach-turning scenes and snatches of eldritch imagery, from human bodies broken and contorted like old puppets to painting frames made of human hair and fluids. It’s grotesque, aiming at a profoundly unsettling and oppressive atmosphere more than sudden frights, and an enormous departure from the sun-soaked loveliness of Call Me By Your Name.
Broken into six acts, we finally descend into Hell – or, perhaps, an inferno even more ancient than that – at the end. Guadagnino goes for broke with the supernatural carnage; thrilling, baffling, and even somehow funny, with a quick epilogue that is both cheeky and profound.
Suspiria might be genius, or might be nonsense, but it’s a unique and petrifying cinematic experience that will crawl into your soul and lodge there for a good while.
CAST: Dakota Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth
DIRECTOR: Luca Guadagnino
WRITERS: Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters), David Kajganich (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: Susie Bannion, a young American woman who travels to the prestigious Markos Tanz Company in Berlin in 1977, arriving just as one of its members, Patricia, has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. As Susie makes extraordinary progress under the guidance of Madame Blanc, the Company’s revolutionary artistic director, she befriends another dancer, Sara, who shares her suspicions that the Matrons, and the Company itself, may be harboring a dark and menacing secret.