In our age of remake and reboot madness, it’s refreshing to see one such remake feel more like a retelling. Luca Guadagnino’s new version of Suspiria contains the same basic tale and characters as the original film, but the similarities stop there and the differences pile up. This is not a conventional horror film, even within the arthouse horror subgenre, but the oftentimes provocative and unsafe feelings this film evokes make it an enjoyably uneasy viewing. This towering, astonishing, and wondrous piece of work has high ambitions all throughout its lofty 152 minute run-time, even if these ambitions invite prickly problems.
Set in 1977, aspiring dancer Susie (Dakota Johnson) is accepted into a dance academy in Germany, where she and her fellow students rehearse under the guidance of choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Susie and her new co-dancer friend Sara (Mia Goth) spend their down-time searching for reasons why a previous student Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) went missing from the academy – as we, and then they, slowly and surely start to realise, the academy is secretly controlled by a coven of witches.
As horror films (particularly of this zany ilk) tend to do, Suspiria builds up the insanity to an all-out off-the-wall climax that seems to make sense at least by the film’s own warped logic. Although each horror moment feels more diluted and slightly less effective than the last, Suspiria’s first show-stopper is a properly horrific scene, intercutting one woman’s dance and one woman’s death, the violent nature of both acts intensified by the powerful editing and sound design, this is sure to leave even hardened viewers trembling.
All of this supernatural terror is linked to real-life terror, introduced into the film by Patricia’s psychologist Dr Klemperer (in one of the few male speaking roles, also played by Tilda Swinton in heavy old-age make-up), who is also investigating the disappearance of Patricia, perhaps because of how clouded his life has become since his wife disappeared when they were separated during the Holocaust. Given these political asides cause unneeded bulkiness and don’t apparently link well to the main tale, Suspiria either needs scenes cut for conciseness or added to clarify story and character aspects.
The 1977 original has long been the most popular of Dario Argento’s films, standing out in his giallo horror oeuvre, but this remake purposefully and defiantly stands apart from it, even to a fault of heaping on the narrative extravagance. This Guadagnino version is an involved spectacle and obviously appears to be a labour of love for all the talent involved, particularly Johnson’s anchoring lead and the glorious music from Thom Yorke. It could benefit with some cutting down to its chilling essence, but Suspiria is nonetheless still a cinematic masterwork, so audacious and visceral, it can’t be forgotten about too soon.