Remaking a film can be a tricky thing, especially when the original is beloved. This is the daunting task Luca Guadagnino, director of last year's Call Me By Your Name, faced as he set out to tackle Suspiria. The original 1977 film is often considered to be horror maestro Dario Argento's masterpiece. As a huge fan of Argento's nightmarish, saturated film, I went in skeptical.
I am pleased to say the this Suspiria is a wonderful expansion on the original story that hits its own unique heights of insanity. Aside from having a similar premise, a prestigious ballet & dance academy is run by a coven of witches led by one of the Three Mothers, the two films are shrinkingly different in a myriad of ways. Gone is the lush Giallo feel of Argento and instead we are given a color palette of muted tones, that is until the blood begins to flood over everything.
Dakota Johnson plays Susie, an American dancer who has moved to Berlin in hopes of becoming a student at the Helena Markos Dance Company. Her audition gets her the spot and also catches the eye of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), who is the head of the school. Guadagnino opens the film with a young dancer (Chloë Grace Moretz) babbling paranoid theories to her shrink. The brilliant score by Thom York of Radiohead also sets a tone of dread that begins from frame one and continues to increase until the final frame.
From there, Guadagnino explores the desperate act of trying to escape what has transpired in the past, the hopelessness in attempts at rebirth. This is done with a largely female cast which includes giving the biggest male performance to an actress in make-up. The connections the film occasionally makes to a divided Berlin are less potent as what goes on inside the school. If I had one criticism to lob at the film it is that I wish it had trusted its core story and the world of witches it creates and left the connections to the real world out of it. Who needs news about the Baader-Meinhof group when you have Swinton and Johnson's back and forth.
Shot by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom on 35mm, this Suspiria may not get remembered the same way as Argento's in terms of look. However, Mukdeeprom creates some unforgettable images all onto his own. He deploys zooms in a way more akin to a film from the 70s but here it takes on an otherworldly momentum to shots. The technical brilliance in the film shines throughout but it is the film's glorious and bloody finale that will help to cement the film in horror film history. With reference points as diverse as Haxan and Evil Dead, it is truly an experience to see the film's climax.
Female energy abounds in this Suspiria. The film makes an argument that females are the only ones to right the limitless memories of wicked history that men have created. Suspiria is one of the year's finest films.