Written by David Kajganich
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Perhaps one of the most controversial remakes of the 21st century, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria has drawn both ire and intrigue, repulsion and fascination, dismissal and curiosity. There are those who are ride-or-die for Dario Argento’s 1977 original, holding it to the highest levels of the horror pantheon. There are also those who dismiss it, finding that they are not drawn into the very things that many others love so dearly within its frames. As someone who is firmly in the camp of “I love it”, I still found myself intrigued by the notion of a remake. After all, while I will laud and cheer Argento’s use of colors and Goblin’s score, I will fully admit that the premise is razor thin and doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. So let there be new takes. Let there be new visions that take the conceit and bring it into new and compelling directions. Let there be new voices and faces that bring this story to a new generation.
In Guadagnino’s Suspiria, the plot is essentially the same as Argento’s. Susie Bannion comes to a dance school that is run by a coven of witches and strange events begin to occur. But the foundation is all that connects the remake to the original. What Guadagnino and Kajganich have crafted is something wholly original and unique unto itself. It’s its own film, one that obviously has a love for Argento’s work but recognizes that it needs to distance itself to make its own point.
In this iteration, the fact that it takes place at a dance academy actually plays a significant role as the students have a performance that is almost unbelievably hypnotizing. It’s eye-arresting and impossible to tear your eyes from the routine, which acts as a form of witchcraft spell-casting. It’s not something thrown in to pad the runtime but rather plays a significant role in the overarching story.
All the things people love about the original are here in Guadagnino’s film but with a different spin. While it doesn’t utilize bold and vivid colors, the palette is still beautifully diverse. Goblin’s prog rock score doesn’t pulsate throughout the scene but Thom Yorke’s original compositions are mesmerizing and disorienting, weaving through odd time signatures to keep listeners on edge. The sound design punctuates throughout and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom ( Hellgate, Call Me By Your Name) uses the camera as though it’s an actual eye floating through the halls of the dance company. Masterful camera techniques boggle the mind as the camera and the crew are nowhere to be seen in the reflections of a room made of mirrors.
The acting, across the board, is rather wonderful, with Dakota Johnson fully embracing this new take on Susie Bannion. Tilda Swinton shines as Madame Blanc, one of the most respected elders in the academy.
For those who wonder if this version can match the level of gore and violence of Argento’s film, you needn’t worry. While the kills take time to happen and have significant delays between them, when they do take place, they are gruesome and shocking. By now, we’ve all heard or read about the dance sequence kill but seeing it on the big screen is something altogether different.
While the original takes its time to reveal the witch aspect of the elders, this movie makes no bones about it, setting that expectation far sooner in the story. There is a revolution within the witch’s ranks that matches the political backdrop of 1977 Berlin, although its efficacy in the greater story, as well as that of Dr. Josef Klemperer (played also by Swinton as Lutz Ebersdorf) and his search for answers regarding the wife (played by Jessica Harper) he lost track of during World War II, is questionable.
The climax is both gloriously blasphemous and oddly silly. Without trying to give anything away, there’s a witch that looks like a bedsore-ridden Butterball from Hellraiser. That the camera refuses to look away from this creature nor is she hidden in darkened light makes her look more and more silly as the scene goes on.
Those small gripes aside, there’s no doubt that Suspiria is something truly and deeply fascinating. A bit long but never boring, it’s a film that demands conversation, critique, and discussion. All fears can be dismissed. This is the real deal.
Suspirira is not a remake but rather a fascinating reimagination of one of horror’s most enduring titles. It lives and breathes in a world of its own, weaving an enchanting, dizzying, and frightening spell.