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