Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria will be unrecognizable to Dario Argento devotees as an atmospherically somber work more attuned to subtle chaos. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke underlays an alt-nation acoustics score, swift ballet swaps with contemporary ferocity, vibrant neons wash away in a sea of dull earth tones – Guadagnino strives to orchestrate something utterly fresh as remakes should. Be bold. Be different. Suspiria is just that, but Guadagninodo struggles at times to remain narratively coherent while breaking away from Argento’s original German academy spellbinder. At upwards of two-and-a-half hours, that’ll happen – even if pacing glides evenly given the timeframe realities.
Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, the newest initiate of world-renown Markos Dance Academy under Madame Blanc’s (Tilda Swinton) tutelage. Susie travels from Ohio during the German Autumn of 1977 with grand ambitions and is immediately singled-out by Blanc. She senses purpose at Markos’ facility. Girls might be vanishing mysteriously, but that gives her a leg-up. Enter psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), piercing rituals, and a sense that all’s not right at Markos Dance Academy. Just ask snoopy attendee Sarah (Mia Goth).
On the merit of momentum and intrigue, Guadagnino proves himself to be a modern master of long-form cinema. At 160 minutes with no intermission, Suspiria zooms by acts and an epilogue with indiscernible lag. Between Johnson’s steady rise to lead prancer, eventual dark arts exposure, lace-red costumes and malicious mirrored maneuvers, Guadagnino ensnares onlookers as the sands of time trickle downward. It’s not often I applaud a film for its butt-numbing length, but Suspiria deserves earned due.
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David Kajganich’s screenplay – which, if you remember, was written by someone who proclaimed to have no passion for Argento’s original – blends 70s Berlin unrest, cackling coven practitioners and mystic choreography with the power to punish. Dr. Josef Klemperer deems women like Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) “deranged” while listening to their stories, ears perked but not hearing their words.
“We need guilt and shame, not yours.” Kajganich unspools Argento’s tightly-wound yarn into tangled knots of gender mistreatment and Mother Suspiriorum’s overtaking of Markos Academy. Thematic heft sags under responsibility, genre commitment and absurdist red flags, requiring most keen attention to detail – a bit too much. While cinematography may embody a contortionist’s fluidity, it’s like three different clashing styles are overlayed one another and acted out at the same time.
Guadagnino’s shock aesthetic is Suspiria’s greatest weapon. Expressive gyrations and thrusts during Volk while one troupe member suffers a bone break wandering Markos’ halls. Curved metal pokers stuck into flesh. A bloody, head-bursting, demonic entity culmination that announces Mother Suspiriorum’s entrance into Mother Markos’ reign. These are the moments audiences will refer to when anointing Suspiria a “modern horror masterpiece.” In these glimpses – nude police officers and all – Suspiria provokes incomprehensible dread through sensual, transformative, lose-yourself stage production. They’re singularly cathartic, fully realized moments.
While framing and shot selection tell much of Suspiria’s descent – Susie sitting dead-still while instructors and partners laugh over dinner – performances range from Johnson and Goth breathing in Markos’ hypnotizing mystery to Swinton doubling as Dr. Klemperer in a very odd, sometimes distracting choice. Jessica Harper appears for a slight yet important role, but Johnson’s smooth operating as Madame Blanc’s most inspiring protégée is as entrancing as it is physically marvelous.
Markos’ company of supporting talents help to mesmerize through the entire Volk ensemble routine – married with simultaneous gruesomeness – but Johnson’s arc is breathlessly bizarre to a swirlingly beautiful degree. A girl, her floor-bound connection, and the hardcore genre elements that *eventually* present themselves – not to forget Swinton’s suspiciously unflinching Madame Blanc and a campy gaggle of witchy women.
All of this to say that Suspiria is a frenzied reimagining that blazes along yet still manages to lose some steam given David Kajganich’s sometimes crossed-wires screenplay. Luca Guadagnino tells a story through visual representation like no other, and his sanguine-soaked payoff proves *precisely* why – but a lot’s going on here. Sometimes too much.
A snarling beast with seven heads all fighting for dominance. A dance company thriller, investigative “redemption” story, and hell-on-earth waltz into the beyond that don’t always snap into place. It’s sure to be remembered and lauded by specific arthouse audience sects but will still instigate divisive debate. Frankly, though, what else can you ask for than a remake that at least *attempts* to value something drastically different?
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria will divide fans of the original and those excited for something fresh as a testament to long-form (2+ hour) filmmaking that holds together impressively well.