Film Review: Suspiria

When news came out that Dario Argento’s 1977 classic “Suspiria” was receiving a 2018 remake, horror fans around the world rejoiced with giddy anticipation. Director Luca Guadagnino of “Call Me by Your Name” gives Argento’s original “girl attends Berlin dance academy run by malevolent witches” tale a refreshing, yet polarizing retelling that attempts to flesh out the original’s plot points to achieve a more complex lore, interwoven with post-war politics. If it seems like a lot, it’s because it is.

Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is a cinematic feat with an atmosphere on par with recent horror films like “The VVitch.” Noticeably more somber than the lurid fuchsia palette of the original, the 2018 version’s muted tone is appropriately accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack composed by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, completely opposite to Italian band Goblin’s progressive rock in the original. It’s a fitting departure from the campy set design and unconventional use of sound that made the 1977 version so remarkable — that kind of gaudy imagery and cacophonous sound editing would be unimaginable for any major film today.

The six-act film begins with an unhinged, young woman named Patricia, in an unfortunate performance by Chloë Grace Moretz, who divulges her elaborate conspiracy of a witch coven embedded in the hierarchy of the renowned Helena Markos Dance Company to her psychiatrist Dr. Jozef Klemperer. In an elaborate hoax of the film’s production, Klemperer is credited for being played by a fictitious Lutz Ebersdorf, but was recently revealed to be Tilda Swinton in a secondary role. Klemperer soon invests himself in Patricia’s subsequent disappearance, which coincides with the arrival of protagonist Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a zealous dance prodigy who captures the attention of famed teacher Madame Blanc (also played by Swinton). Amidst the dancers’ anxieties with Patricia’s disappearance, Susie successfully replaces Patricia’s former role as lead in the company’s original production called “Volk.”

“Suspiria” manages to contain itself up until its bloodbath of a final act with a relative lack of terror (save for one deeply unnerving scene of body horror choreography), primarily focusing on Susie and Blanc’s intimate relationship and burdening itself with several unsuccessful subplots. Against the backdrop of the “German Spring,” the film attempts to make several connections between the coven and their likely involvement with the tension of this political moment, but these suggestions are ultimately unfulfilling. In a similar fashion, the film includes a drawn-out arc involving Klemperer’s personal reconciliation with the loss of his wife during the war that feels wholly unfitting and at odds with the material at hand. Guadagnino manages to blow all of this out of mind with the film’s final act, which one can only describe as an “Eyes Wide Shut” orgy that takes place in the lower strata of Dante’s “Inferno.” The scene is done in complete excess, but unlike the film’s extraneous subplots, it’s actually enjoyable- Guadagnino produces a stellar sequence of pure, senseless fun that feels only appropriate for an Argento remake.

Led by a star-studded cast, including Alek Wek (whose character, Miss Millius, is disappointingly quiet), and a cameo appearance from Jessica Harper, who played Susie in the original, Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is beautifully acted. There’s an unsurprising star performance from Swinton and an even greater one from rising model-actress Mia Goth. Swinton’s performance as dance teacher Madame Blanc is exquisitely restrained and elegant. However, it’s Goth’s performance as Patricia’s close friend Sara, who steals the spotlight. Goth, who stars in the upcoming sci-fi flick “High Life,” gives a sensational performance as her character Sara unravels the secrets behind the academy and Patricia’s disappearance alongside Klemperer.

“Suspiria” is not an easy film to watch. It’s a slow-burner built around an oppressive atmosphere and lacks the obvious scares of the original; not to mention, it features some of the most stomach-churning sequences in recent film memory. Additionally, for moviegoers the film is difficult to assess, due to its suffering from a cumbersome script that attempts to fit in too much narrative. In the end, despite these flaws, this film is a fantastic spectacle of horror. “Suspiria” is a must-watch for fans and non-fans alike.

Grade: B
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Rating: R