A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Suspiria is a fascinating film. Based on the original movie of the same name, this new version attempts to patch the gaping holes and nearly inexplicable narrative problems that plagued Dario Argento’s horror classic, while reintroducing the story of a cursed dance studio to a new generation. The results are an overall better film that is painfully negligent of what made the original legendary, while still delivering an entertaining experience.
Berlin, Germany, 1977. The country is in turmoil. With the events of WWII just three decades prior, Germany is sharply divided between east and west. Unrest rocks the country, and the left-wing Red Army Faction is stoking the political fires with demonstrations and terrorist attacks. Psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton in heavy makeup), is given a surprise visit from one of his more hysterical patients. Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a student of the Markos Dance Academy who has been having recurring delusions that the company is being run by witches. She feels she is being watched, she trusts no one. Then, of course, Patricia disappears.
“…openly accuses the instructors of being witches…”
Meanwhile, American dance student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in town on the off chance that she might be able to audition for the company. Instantly Susie causes a stir with a brilliant audition, catching the eye of the studio dance director Madam Blance (Tilda Swinton). Susie is immediately invited, not only to be a part of the company but to move into one of the building’s dorms that has coincidentally just opened up.
Everything appears to be going smoothly, despite the fact that a number of students are still bothered by Patricia’s sudden departure. It’s only after another student, Olga (Elena Fokina) openly accuses the instructors of being witches that the merde really hits the fan. Soon other dancers begin to suspect a darker subtext to the instructors and the dances they are performing and become nosey. That’s not to mention that Patricia’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Josef Klemperer, suspects there may have been something to her ravings.
As was stated at the outset, Suspiria makes a very genuine effort to create a compelling story from the strangely plotted original. By taking time to focus on three separate narratives, complete with backstory, Suspiria makes a hell of a lot more sense. The script by David Kajganich takes great pains to carefully and thoroughly wrap up the multiple strands of the newly expanded narrative.
It is a shame though to report that what made the original Suspiria so legendary has been mostly tossed out in favor of mystery. Gone are the operatic, over-the-top death scenes in lieu of slow-building tension and mystery. Granted we get one glorious, stomach-churning dance scene in which a performer is being twisted and contorted by unseen forces. Yet, aside from another minor incident, we get little else. That’s fine if director Luca Guadagnino wanted to actually take this version in a more plot-driven direction. I actually quite like that novel approach in search of a new take on the material, but as the film stands right now, things are pretty uneven until the final reel when all hell breaks loose.
“…takes inspiration from 70’s Vogue magazine. Every shot is symmetrical and perfect, every line is clean, glorious…“
Tilda Swinton should get another Oscar Nomination for her performance as Madame Blanc. Stoic, lanky, and the perfect weirdo, she graces every scene she is in with a disturbing intensity. Johnson as Susie is also remarkable as the mysterious ingenue that takes the company by storm. In fact, the performances are all damned good.
One change that actually bests the original film is the production design, the hair, and makeup. Turning its back on the hyper-saturated, comic tones from the original movie, this Suspira takes inspiration from 70’s Vogue magazine. Every shot is symmetrical and perfect, every line is clean, glorious, and perfectly created. The costumes are spot on, period and location specific, and they create a palpable sense of time and place.
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria could have easily secured its place alongside the original as a worthy take on the story had it just remembered the original reason we fell in love with what inspired it. The art direction finds a new identity, the music by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke could easily be held up against the predecessor’s soundtrack by Goblin, the story makes sense, the performances are all on point, yet, without the glorious murder set pieces, we wonder why we are watching, to begin with.
Suspiria (2018) Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Written by David Kajganich. Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick, Chloë Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Mia Goth, Alek Wek.
6 out of 10 stars