Suspiria Movie Review
Written by Jonathan Lees
Released by Amazon Studios
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters) & David Kajganich (screenplay)
2018, 152 minutes, Rated R
Released on November 2nd, 2018
Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion
Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc / Dr. Josef Klemperer (as Lutz Ebersdorf)
Mia Goth as Sara
Angela Winkler as Miss Tanner
Ingrid Caven as Miss Vendegast
Elena Fokina as Olga
Sylvie Testud as Miss Griffith
Renée Soutendijk as Miss Huller
Christine Leboutte as Miss Balfour
Fabrizia Sacchi as Pavla
Malgorzata Bela as Mother
Jessica Harper as Anke
Chloë Grace Moretz as Patricia Hingle
If you spend decades citing a film as one of your favorites of all time, one that contains a potent brand of magic not often replicated in modern cinema, you can understand the trepidation of seeing a reimagining of Suspiria despite the pedigree of all involved. Luca Guadagnino’s interpretation of Dario Argento's maximalist classic does nothing to dilute the strength of that film's sorcery or erase its legacy. Instead, it casts an entirely new spell that is at once as relevant and entrancing in its own right, even if in the duration of its dance occasionally steps on its own two feet.
Both the 1977 film and this reinterpretation open in a rainstorm and along with the skeleton of the original’s narrative, that's where the comparisons between these films should end. Gone are the head rattling assaults of Italian instrumentalists Goblin and the eye piercing colors from the lighting of Luciano Tovoli. They are replaced here with more subtle compositions by Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Missing is the instant disorientation and discordance that Argento used to construct his visual ritual that feels instantly evil and menacing. Here the environment looks leeched, like life being drained from everything, decay and destruction around it, which is a perfect atmosphere to mirror the power struggles outside and within the scope of the film.
Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), the doomed student who has uncovered the plot of the women that surround her, flees the famed Helena Markos Dance Company helmed by the imposing Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). She disappears into a bleak Berlin, mottled by disrepair and dredged in depression during a period of political unrest, which we soon discover she is believed to be a participating rebel agitator. Upon arrival at her psychotherapist's office, we meet Dr. Klemperer, whose story of love lost is a reflection of the abuse of power that taints the tone of what proceeds.
We must break the nose of every beautiful thing.
This is a film of dualities in personalities and perceptions. What is a witch if not a feared woman of free will and power? What is a dancer if not someone perceived as delicate displaying an exceptional precision and strength? Susie Bannion, played with a ferocious intensity by Dakota Johnson, possesses this power of duality far from the doe-eyed innocence of the original role, the naive Alice in Argento’s demented Wonderland. 2018 Susie is bashful yet brave, seemingly meek but strong, demure then animalistic in her sensuality. Mr. Guadguidino and screenwriter David Kajganich channel all the fears, protests, and anguish within our current cultural landscape through these women, these beings of extreme power shuttered away from the chaos outside the academy and left to fend off against themselves. An interesting aside, neither is afraid to critique these women, who seem to be making the same mistakes of men by displaying a proclivity for turning on one another, allowing their own tainted politics to cloud their judgment and draining young vitality and passion to support old dying infrastructures.
Where Argento treated violence as high art, ghoulish and operatic, the violence on display here is no less vicious, but it remains ritualistic and with purpose. Blades and barbed wire booby traps are replaced mostly with dance moves. Before you get riled up, trust these dances are creepy and effective. The sheer momentum of movement in coordination with the natural sounds of cutoff breathing and lashing out limbs, the result is just as shocking as a good ol' stabbing. The humiliation and degradation that ensues is arguably more horrible than traditional faceless mayhem.
Everyone involved in this production made a concerted effort to produce a work of high art, but even in the best works of art you can see the imperfections. The choice to have Thom Yorke's voice float over his instrumentation twice in the film is distracting, too modern and recognizable to fit here but not as much as the fumbled opening where Chloe Moretz's muddled delivery is as uneven as the old man makeup on Tilda Swinton playing Dr. Klemperer. In addition, the grandiose shocks of Argento's film are absent here and some of the more haunting imagery in the remake is flash cut and looks more like an appropriation of the staging in a fashion advertisement than anything truly upsetting.
Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria is an entirely new beast, intricately designed in metaphorical movements and precision performances that I'm sure will entrance some and infuriate others. Time will tell whether it sticks the landing and becomes the modern cult classic it deserves to be.