Luca Guadagnino’s latest film is Suspiria, a reimagining of the 1977 cult horror film directed by Dario Argento. The film follows Susie, a young dancer from Ohio, who enrolls in a world-renowned dance academy in Berlin. But darkness looms over the Markos Dance Academy, as students begin to disappear without explanation. To reveal any more about the plot would be too much of a spoiler, especially if you have not seen Argento’s original. Suffice to say, this is not your typical horror film. Despite the fact that Argento’s Suspiria is famous for its winding plot and vibrant style, Guadagnino seems determined to up the insanity to the nth degree for his remake.
While Argento’s film was full of bold, primary colors, Guadagnino, along with production designer Inbal Weinberg and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, utilize a grimier color palette of beige, brown, and dark red, which evokes the feeling of flesh and blood. All of the technical aspects of Suspiria are superb. The cinematography, editing, sound design, and score (written by first-time film composer Thom Yorke of Radiohead) are all practically flawless. However, the film falters with its script, which was penned by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). The original Suspiria built suspense and intrigue by keeping information from the audience, a tactic that Kajganich mimics. But instead of the feeling of mystery, Kajganich’s script only confuses and convolutes. There is so much happening in the film that it can be difficult to tell whether the plot confusion comes from the withholding of information, or if it simply isn’t there at all. These moments of confusion are often overshadowed by the exciting and provocative style of the film, which could encourage audiences to seek out the movie for a second viewing. Luckily, Suspiria is produced by Amazon Studios, so it will likely be available to stream on Amazon Prime in the future. Despite its divisive nature, intrigued viewers will be sure to return to the film so they can really go through it with a fine toothed comb.
Suspiria further sets itself apart from the original film by adding several subplots which elongate the film to two and a half hours, a full hour longer than the original. These subplots mainly concern an elderly psychiatrist, Dr. Josef Klemperer, who is played by Lutz Ebersdorf, the aggressively marketed first-time actor who is actually just Tilda Swinton in some incredibly realistic prosthetic makeup. There is also a recurring subplot about imprisoned political refugees that appears to add nothing more than a dollop of parallelism to the film’s main storyline. Given the film’s length, Guadagnino wisely inserts an opening title card, labeling Suspiria as “six acts and an epilogue,” with additional title cards shown at the beginning of each new act. This device allows the audience to keep a mental record of how much time is left, making the experience not quite so taxing.
On the acting front, Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson give standout performances as the Madam Blanc (the head dance instructor) and Susie Bannion, respectively. Swinton’s multi-character performances are certainly one of film’s highlights, but Johnson’s skillfully physical performance should not be undersold. Training over the course of several years for the role, Johnson executes a number of tremendously choreographed dances that push her body to the limit. However, it is Swinton and Johnson’s combined performances that make the film work. Their deadpan, hypnotic chemistry is the core of Suspiria, and without it, the film simply wouldn’t work. It should also be noted that the film features a predominantly female cast, with only two male actors (each with one line of dialogue) appearing on screen. This is another notable change from Argento’s original, which featured several memorable male characters like Daniel and Professor Milius. Guadagnino logically eliminated the male presence from the dance-academy-coven, a decision that improves the film both narratively and aesthetically.
Despite its faults, Suspiria should certainly be commended for swinging for the fences and confidently plunging into insanity. With few other films like it, Suspiria will undoubtedly provide a unique and memorable time at the movies, whether you like the film or not. ★★★★