To call Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria a remake would be a disservice to both this reinvention and the original. Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo horror masterpiece stands on its own pedestal and its synonymous vibrant colour palette remains iconic. The new Suspiria is an entirely different beast. The narrative bones are the same: a young American woman enters a prestigious German dance academy and, naturally, witchcraft ensues. However, Guadagnino has chosen to completely reimagine the aesthetic by draining all colour from the frame leaving only the dark and desolate. Set against the backdrop of a tumultuously divided Berlin (the wall itself only footsteps from the dance academies doors) serves to paint a bleak picture. There is a political contextualisation in a depth that is rarely seen in horror films, with allusions to be made between the unrest in Germany, witchcraft and cults. We are certainly a long way from the sunny Northern Italian town of Guadagnino’s last feature, the excellent Call Me By Your Name.
The almost exclusively female cast exert extraordinary power and grace. Tilda Swinton is exceptional as the ominous Madame Blanc who watches over the dancers like a spectre and is equally brilliant in her second, more disguised, role. Dakota Johnson gives a career best performance as the initially naive and innocent but ultimately transformative Susie. Evidently dance and horror go hand in hand as the body is central to Suspiria‘s terror. It contorts, twists, bends and breaks in unnatural and gruesome ways. The film features perhaps one of the most evocative dance sequences on screen: a disturbing blend of beauty and violence that left a sold out LIFF 2018 crowd visibly squirming in their seats. The physical act of dance itself is a source of horror for Suspiria, and every movement becomes demonic and ritualistic.
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke composes his first original score which haunts every scene. The often delicate soundtrack creates an entirely unnerving atmosphere in its own right. With each new act the film descends further into darkness. Guadagnino makes uses of slow zooms, turning the screw as the tension ramps up towards its spectacularly bloody crescendo – think this year’s earlier horror hit Hereditary or last year’s polarising mother!. The film does not rely on cheap jump scares or a continual use of gore; big scares are used sparingly, but when they do arrive they come with full bone-crunching force.
Suspiria will undeniably be divisive. The pace is, at times, slow, which isn’t necessarily a bad trait, but with a running time of two and a half hours the film demands attention and will be a challenge for some. Yet those willing to embrace the horrific dance that you’re invited to will be rewarded. Only time will tell if Suspiria will rank among the horror greats as its predecessor does, but for sheer uncompromising vision alone Guadagnino’s rebirth deserves to be.
Image courtesy of Spoiler TV and Creative Tourist.