Luca Guadagnino's 'Suspiria' is an artsy interpretation of the Dario Argento horror classic.
Release Date: November 2, 2018
MPAA Rating: R
In Suspiria, a darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Screenwriter(s): David Kajganich, Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Producer(s): Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, Gabriele Morabito, William Sherak, Silvia Venturini Fendi
Cast: Dakota Johnson (Susie Bannion), Tilda Swinton (Madame Blanc/Helena Markos/Dr. Joseph Klemperer), Mia Goth (Sara), Elena Fokina (Olga)
Editor: Walter Fasano
Cinematographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Production Designer: Inbal Weinberg
Casting Director: Stella Savino
Music Score: Thom Yorke
No classic horror movie is safe from being remade. Just since the turn of the century, fans have gotten reboots of seemingly untouchable classics like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, all with varying degrees of effectiveness. The latest episode of “Is Nothing Sacred In The Horror World?” stars Suspiria.
Suspiria is about a young American dancer named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson from Bad Times at the El Royale) who travels to West Berlin with hopes of earning a place at the world famous Markos Dance Academy. Head Choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton from Only Lovers Left Alive) is impressed enough with Susie’s raw ability to offer her a spot with the company, and the dancer quickly rises through the ranks and becomes a lead performer for the troupe.
Meanwhile, a psychiatrist named Dr. Joseph Klemper (also Swinton, although billed as Lutz Ebersdorf) begins snooping around the dance school after talking with a paranoid patient named Patricia (If I Stay’s Chloë Grace Moretz) who fled the academy. Klemper stumbles upon a dark secret involving witches on the company’s governing board, led by their enigmatic founder Helena Markos (Swinton again – she’s all over this movie). The board has nefarious plans for Susie, and Dr. Klemper’s efforts to save the young woman puts everyone in danger.
The original Suspiria was directed in 1977 by horror maestro Dario Argento (the first of his Three Mothers trilogy which also includes 1980’s Inferno and 1007’s The Mother of Tears), while this one was made by art filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name). The basic story skeleton is similar (Argento and Daria Nicolodi even get screenwriting credits) and both versions are filled with striking imagery, but the movies are still wildly different.
The script for this updated version, written by David Kajganich (True Story, Blood Creek), is heavier on exposition and analogy than Argento’s original. The setting of the film is shifted from seventies Munich to Berlin which was, at the time, still separated into post-WWII sections, with the city itself inside the Soviet-occupied section of the country. This lends itself to some Holocaust survivor drama that, frankly, isn’t entirely effective in its execution, but does provide one of the coolest “ah-ha!” moments for fans of the original film. The padded narrative also allows Guadagnino and Kajganich to explain the Three Mothers concept better than Argento ever did.
On the flip side, the extrapolated backstory increases Suspiria’s running time by an hour over its predecessor, which can get tedious at times, particularly during its seemingly never-ending final act. That’s where the movie really loses steam; the first two hours are absolutely brilliant, but the film doesn’t quite stick the landing. The last half hour or so is an excruciating exercise in Cronenbergian slime and viscera. Some fans will love it and see it as a final catharsis, but others – like me – will feel it’s a cop-out ending to an otherwise amazing movie. Either way, like it or not, both sides will have to admit that Suspiria goes off the rails by the end.
So, how does one recreate a legendary movie? Guadagnino’s answer is to not even try. And he’s right. Suspiria lacks the primary colored, comic book panel aesthetic of Argento’s film, opting for a more subdued and muted look that is packed with dizzying camera movements and creepy Luis Buñuel imagery. It’s a completely different movie than Argento’s, and for that, we should all be thankful. Because now, we’ve got two very good – and very different – Suspiria movies. And nothing about the new one is going to change anything about the old.
Score and Soundtrack
The music for Suspiria was written by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who makes his feature length film score debut here after years of watching his bandmate Jonny Greenwood compose for movies like You Were Never Really Here and Inherent Vice. Yorke’s score for Suspiria sounds a bit like deep cut Radiohead outtakes, ethereal and spacey with just a hint of ominous suspense that just barely keeps itself from falling into heavily dissonant cacophony. And yes, Yorke sings on much of the score, basically becoming the equivalent of a one-man vocal choir. Yorke’s music is as different from the original Goblin score as Guadagnino’s movie is from the original Argento film, and that makes sense. Neither Yorke nor Guadagnino tried to emulate the original, so what they end up with is a new collective vision. And Yorke’s score is a perfect fit for Guadagnino’s innovative take on Suspiria.
Suspiria isn’t overtly scary, it’s more of just a neverending feeling of being creeped out, sporadically interrupted by little bursts of “holy crap!” and, finally, punctuated with one big gooey, gory orgy of body horror. Before the drawn-out final scene, there’s very little gore in the film, but there is plenty of gruesome, bloodless carnage that kind of has to be seen to be fully appreciated. As far as traditional scares go, Suspiria is fairly light (there’s not a jump scare in the bunch). It does bring plenty of psychological horror to the table, though. This movie follows you home and sticks in your head for days.