DI­REC­TOR Luca Guadagnino CAST Dakota John­son, Tilda Swin­ton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz, An­gela Win­kler

Empire (Australasia) - - On.Screen -

PLOT Amer­i­can Susie Ban­nion (John­son) es­capes her aus­tere Men­non­ite fam­ily life by head­ing to Ber­lin to join the exclusive He­lena Markos Dance Com­pany. When she ar­rives, the school is in tur­moil: one of the stu­dents has gone miss­ing and the teach­ers are be­ing ac­cused of witchcraft.

WHEN THE FIRST whis­pers of a Sus­piria re­make made them­selves heard, the in­ter­net was aghast. No one could be­lieve that some­one would have the au­dac­ity to have a stab at Dario Ar­gento’s 1977 clas­sic. How could they? The di­rec­tor’s use of eye-pop­ping colour and grisly ul­tra­vi­o­lence, all ac­com­pa­nied by prog-rocker’s Goblin’s ca­co­phonic sonic as­sault on the senses, were leg­endary. Sus­piria was un­touch­able, a hor­ror holy grail. Who would dare go near it?

A lauded Os­car nom­i­nee, it turns out. Af­ter a cou­ple of year’s in de­vel­op­ment hell, in­clud­ing a first draft by David Gor­don Green who went on to helm the cur­rent Hal­loween se­quel, the bad blood has dried and Call Me By Your Name helmer Luca Guadagnino is now bravely wield­ing the di­rec­to­rial blade.

Guadagnino lays down his in­ten­tions to go a dif­fer­ent route right out the gate with his self-de­scribed “homage”, which mer­ci­fully doesn’t take the car­bon copy ap­proach that blighted Gus Van Sant’s dread­ful Psy­cho. Where Ar­gento’s gar­ish gorefest’s ter­ri­fy­ing open­ing sees a girl’s ar­rival in Rome turn into a kalei­do­scopic trip to hell, Guadagnino opens his film in a less flashy and far more dour fash­ion. He also wisely takes the orig­i­nal’s ad­mit­tedly slight sto­ry­line and re­po­si­tions it in a 1977 Ber­lin liv­ing in the shadow of The Wall and Baader-mein­hof. It’s grey, mis­er­able and som­bre, all beau­ti­fully cap­tured by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Say­ombhu Mukdeep­rom to the tune of Ra­dio­head singer Thom Yorke’s mes­meris­ing score.

Guadagnino’s homage is also more in­ter­ested in the dance teach­ers in­volved in this witches brew than any un­der­ly­ing oc­cult mys­tery.

This is a film about the rise and power of wom­an­hood; the fact that they are witches is never in any doubt. To ham­mer the point home the pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male cast in­cludes Tilda Swin­ton tak­ing on three roles, two un­der heavy la­tex, and one of which is the male lead. Apart from the ethe­real Madame Blanc, she plays oc­to­ge­nar­ian psy­chi­a­trist Dr. Jozef Klem­perer. It’s a cast­ing stunt that avoids dis­trac­tion due to the bril­liance of Swin­ton’s per­for­mance. And by tak­ing the role, a tor­tured soul haunted by the death of his wife Anke and the only out­sider who knows the truth about the school, the char­ac­ter is emas­cu­lated, thus giv­ing strength to the rest of the en­sem­ble. Of those Dakota John­son gives a ca­reer best per­for­mance as Susie Ban­nion while Mia Goth as Sara, Chloe Grace Moretz as Pa­trica and Elena Fok­ina play­ing Olga all ex­cel.

The vi­o­lence is bru­tal. When a ter­ri­fied Olga tries to leave the school she finds her­self alone in a mir­ror-walled dance stu­dio, her body be­com­ing linked to Susie’s who is ag­gres­sively danc­ing in the stu­dio next door. As Susie dances, Olga is flung vi­o­lently across the room, her body con­tort­ing and her mus­cles stretch­ing as bones ag­o­nis­ingly snap and skin be­comes stretched and bruised. It’s a dis­tress­ing and gen­uinely dis­turb­ing se­quence as tears, saliva and urine re­place the typ­i­cal hor­ror movie blood-sprays. Much like the dou­ble-mur­der that opens Ar­gento’s ver­sion, it un­nerv­ingly tele­graphs the wicked­ness to come.

Guadagnino is a proven au­teur with an un­com­pro­mis­ing vi­sion. He has taken a film sa­cred to many and pro­duced a cere­bral but pesti­lent “cover ver­sion” of the Ar­gento clas­sic. Much like Gas­par Noe’s equally bril­liant and dis­tress­ing Cli­max, the di­rec­tor jux­ta­poses the beauty of dance with hideous im­agery. This isn’t hor­ror, at least not as we know it. Rather it’s a long and of­ten tor­tur­ous ex­pe­ri­ence that will re­pulse many while it teeters on the precipice of pre­ten­sion. But that ap­pears to be Guadagnino’s aim: a hor­ror film that plays to the art­house and grind­house with ease. And that, it tran­spires, is a be­witch­ing con­cept in­deed. DAVID MICHAEL BROWN

VER­DICT En­ter ex­pect­ing to see a car­bon copy of the Dario Ar­gento orig­i­nal and you will be sorely dis­ap­pointed. Go will­ing to be chal­lenged by a di­rec­tor at the top of his game and Sus­piria de­liv­ers in bloody spades.

The girls should’ve never danced near nana’s ball of yarn.

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