Supernatural horror in six acts
At first, his ambition pays dividends.
Set in Cold War West
Berlin in 1977, we first meet an unhinged dancer named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) urgently seeking help from her elderly German shrink Dr Josef Klemperer (played by Guadagnino muse Tilda Swinton, wearing prosthetics).
Patricia’s convinced the esteemed Helen Markos Dance Academy where she’s studying is run by bloodthirsty witches, which Klemperer puts down to delusions.
Meanwhile, clean-cut Ohio dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the academy and is quickly cast by star choreographer Madame Blanc (also Swinton) in the leading role that Patricia, who’s now missing, has left open.
Despite Madame’s magnetic allure, it is soon clear that something witchy is afoot; as Susie performs, another dancer Olga (Elena Fokina), trapped in an adjacent room of mirrors, is flung about as if controlled by Susie’s dance until her body is gruesomely battered and snapped.
It’s a spectacularly ghastly scene, one that Guadagnino, aided by a mournful score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, doesn’t manage to replicate thereafter.
Guadagnino continually makes references to the BaaderMeinhof gang, a threat on Berlin’s streets that presumably mirrors the academy’s internal dangers. But the political turmoil is not coherently tied to the plot and feels superfluous, as do other unnecessarily complex sub-plots.
And on it goes, a feverish nightmare that by its bloodsoaked, bonkers, long-awaited ending drowns in its own unadulterated pretentiousness.
At its best Suspiria mesmerises with breathtaking choreography (by Damien Jalet) and elegant compositions. At worst it delivers a unique and persistent form of torture.
The Berlin dance school students might be a coven of witches.