A darkness swirls at the centre of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director (Tilda Swinton), an ambitious young dancer (Dakota Fanning) and a grieving psychologist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Suspiria is a remake of the revered Giallo film that was originally directed by Dario Argento. This retelling of that story is brought to the screen by Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me By My Name and largely abandons the stark colour and occasionally preposterous set pieces of the 1977 classic, adopting an arguably easier to access blend of psychological and visual horror set against the backdrop of the ballet school.
If the 2018 Amazon Studios film is the first time you’ll be watching Suspiria, then you’re in for a treat. It’s a dark and tightly plotted experience, with a gripping, though short, performance from Chloe Grace Moretz as Patricia Hingle, a young girl tortured by her experiences and a wonderfully cast Tilda Swinton in multiple roles. Dakota Johnson brings Susie Bannion, embodied the student’s caution, naivety and a desire to succeed, to life with every passing scene.
With a majority female cast, power and responsibility are embodied through the structures of the dance school, with the male characters on the periphery. From the head of the school down, the subtle abuse of position and authority, along with the need to belong, are well executed as is the underlying need for guilt and shame as a drive for ambition and power.
Thom Yorke provides a haunting soundtrack and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography gets the most out of the beautiful architecture and surroundings as well as providing an unsettling eye onto the world of Suspiria.
Fans of the 1977 film will recognise many of the beats of the new interpretation and should, hopefully, appreciate the bold attempt to do something accessible to modern audiences whilst still giving ample nods to the source material. It’s not a perfect remake, but it doesn’t suffer the sanitisation of some films that have attempted to take respected material and present it for a wider audience.
Where Suspiria is at its most obtuse is the Three Mothers conceit that ran through the Argento films. Despite having a two and half hour run time, much is left unspoken and pulling all the threads together isn’t always easy as the film shifts from one act to another. The film opens by advising it’s a film of six acts and an epilogue and it’s true to its word, with each new act having its own title card, like the chapters of a particularly long, sprawling novel.
The film, whilst largely in English, also features German dialogue, with no dubbed option for this. It adds to the overall arthouse style of the film, though some may see the whole experience as pretentious, especially towards the later acts with their lavish, aggressive and beautifully choreographed ballet sequences. It’s with this in mind that it’s difficult to watch parts of this film without thinking of Darren Aronofsky’s 2011 ballet-themed psychological thriller/horror Black Swan. That’s not a bad thing, either.
Whereas the 1977 film was arguably more psychological and reserved in its use of horror, this version provides a much more visceral look at the school and the power of the witches at its heart. In particular, a scene where one of the performers is put through a torturous performance on her own is rather chilling, especially considering the beauty that is taking place elsewhere in the school. It’s a well-used theme in the film, too, dance being portrayed as a ritual.
Suspiria isn’t a run of the mill horror film, it doesn’t play to the masses, nor does it lead the viewer from plot point to plot point whilst throwing jump scares in the way to remind the viewer that this is a horror film. It’s a deliberately densely crafted film that weaves its way to its finale in a nightmarish way, with unsettling (and sometimes downright horrific) moments and performances.
A long film, with much depth and complexity, Suspiria would be an incomprehensible mess in lesser hands and with a less confident cast. As it stands, this film may not make sense at times, but it is a beautifully crafted film that pays homage to Argento’s classic, complete with the disturbing sense of dread, the visually stunning camerawork and a style of its own, with the hallmarks of Giallo films, brought to a modern audience. It explores the themes of alienations, paranoia and sexuality without falling into sensationalism for any of those elements and still delivers a compelling, if somewhat unorthodox, viewing experience that delivers a powerful ending.
The BluRay edition includes four featurettes – The Making Of, Secret Language of Dance, Transformations of Suspiria and The Look – and they’re all well under five minutes long, which is a touch disappointing. We do learn about many aspects of the film making and design process and the steps taken to be authentic and separate to the original film.
Sadly, there isn’t a director’s commentary or any commentary of any kind. What we do get are interesting, if somewhat short, featurettes that will leave many viewers wanting to know more about what they’ve just seen.
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Scr: David Kajganich
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Dakota Fanning, Chloe Grace Moretz
Prd: Carlo Antonelli, Lauren Beck, Josh Godfrey, Roberto Manni, Stella Savino, Kimberly Steward, James Vanderbilt, Massimiliano Violante
DOP: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Country: United States, Italy, Germany
Runtime: 153 mins
Suspiria is available to buy on DVD and BluRay from 7th October 2019 and is also available on-demand from Amazon Prime Video.