Toil and trouble
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria fails to cast a spell
One film magazine used to conclude each review with “Should you see it?” followed by “Yes” or “No”, presumably as a concession to the timepoor who struggled to digest the exhaustive 200-words of reviewer opinion. Once (we forget the film) the advice was “Yes and No”, the self-defeating unhelpfulness of which has made us chuckle ever since.
Sadly, it comes to mind with Suspiria. It’s a deeply odd film. In many ways it’s meant to be: a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror about an American ballet student who joins a German dance school only to discover it’s run by a coven of witches, it has achieved cult status thanks to its unusual aesthetic (lots of primary colours, primarily blood red), prog rock soundtrack and campy occult plot.
Now it has been remade by Luca Guadagnino, aesthete director of lush, mannered upper-class family dramas, notably I Am Love and the Oscar-winning Call Me by Your Name. An odd choice, then, but Guadagnino says he has been “obsessed” by the film since he saw it alone aged 14 and has waited over 30 years to have a go himself. His version, he says, takes “motherhood” as its theme and pits the action against the 1977 German Autumn, adding a spooky Thom Yorke soundtrack. Guadagnino favourites Dakota Johnson (student Susie Bannion) and Tilda Swinton (top witch Madame Blanc) star. He’s also added a subplot involving an elderly German psychoanalyst, allegedly played by an actual elderly German psychoanalyst and first-time actor — until Swinton blew the whistle that this was also her, heavily made-up and wearing a prosthetic penis and testicles.
Guadagnino’s cast includes 38 women and three men. He calls it the most personal film he’s made. It looks gorgeous and shivers along on a storm of wintery malevolence. One
bone-breaking scene is likely to stay with you forever. The last 40 minutes are completely nuts. But for all the love and detail lavished upon it, you do wonder what the point is. Suspiria gets inside your head yet remains something of a head-scratcher. Should you see it? Unfortunately our best answer is “Yes and No”. —
Suspiria is out on 16 November
Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth and Olivia Ancona star in the reimagined Suspiria