Suspiria – Movie Review – A classic reincarnated.

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is among the top tier of my most favoured horror films of all time. I consider it a classic, so naturally I was cautious when I heard it would be receiving a remake. My lack of faith was put at ease when I saw the fantastic cast that were assembled to star in this version, of the 1977 Italian horror. So after years of waiting Luca Guadagnino’s retelling of this story is here and I was lucky enough to attend the BFI London Film Festival Premiere. In fact I have seen the film twice already, just a couple of days apart. So I’ve had time to digest the film and process my thoughts.

This film tells the story of Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) a young American dancer who travels to Berlin to attend the world-renowned Markos Dance Academy. Once there she begins to realise something sinister is afoot at the heart of this academy, as girls start disappearing which leads psychiatrist Dr. Jozef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton), on an investigation to uncover the truth.

What I feel needs to be made immediately clear is this isn’t your typical ‘remake’. In fact I’m hesitant to even label it as such. It servers more as a companion piece to Argento’s original. It’s an extension of the original vision, but instead of sticking to the aesthetic and style of Dario Argento, Luca has made this his own. This is how every horror remake should be, instead of outright copying the original, it’s the directors own personal expression and vision of the material. There isn’t really a single scene where you could outright say it’s imitating the 1977 film, any scenes that do share some similarities still end up being wildly different in their execution. There are a handful of small references but you’d have to know the original inside and out to recognise them.

One aesthetic that immediately helps make Luca’s film seem unique in it’s own right, is the choice to invert the colour palette to a range of flat colours such as grey and black, which also help reflect on the dire atmosphere of Berlin back in 1977 when the film is set. This was a dark time in Berlin’s political history and this time period serves as a bleak but fitting backdrop, for the hierarchy power struggle this film depicts. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom certainly deserves credit for how he chose to shoot the film in terms of the colour palette, but also the shot selection. There’s a satisfying blend of new and old camera techniques that sometimes make you feel like you’re watching a film from the 70’s, and at other times makes you feel like you’re watching something much more modern. There’s scenes where the frames are dropped to create a hazy slow motion effect, and there’s other scenes where a steady shot will slowly and often unnervingly zoom in towards the actors expressions. I certainly believe the cinematography is worthy of Oscar recognition.

David Kajganich’s screenplay is a pleasant surprise. Following on from what I said about this film being it’s own fresh take on the material, the screenplay will feel rather unfamiliar even to those who are well versed with the finer details of the original. There’s many interesting elements that have been placed within the script that are rather ambiguous and purposely vague, so that it leaves you with plenty to think about when the film is over. There’s a plethora of themes that are a key focus of the story that I didn’t expect to be explored with the level depth and attention that they are given. There’s certainly much greater depth to this version of the story compared to the 1977 film. Ultimately I love the direction the story is taken in this rendition, it’s a hypnotic tale of guilt, regret and the fight for power, with an added side of melancholy. It’s so dense narratively and thematically that it will warrant multiple viewings to fully unpack.

There’s three story lines that the script alternates between, there’s the events taking place at the Markos Dance Academy, there’s a plot thread following Dr. Jozef Klemperer as he begins to suspect something sinister is going on within the school. Lastly the film often cuts back to an isolated house, showcasing something that plays a major part in understanding what occurs later on in the film. Despite there being three plot threads in rotation through out, they do end up connecting together come the final act.

The entire cast is outstanding, from Dakota Johnson’s innocent but focused Susie, to Mia Goth’s sweet portrayal of Sara. All the performances stick with you. Dakota’s performance is quite understated, she portrays Susie in such a natural way that I found myself becoming really attached to her journey through out the story. This may end up being a career defining performance for Dakota who is starting to impress me more and more with her talents. Mia Goth’s character Sara, is a girl coping with the disappearance of her close friend, whilst at first not wanting to give in to the suspicious thoughts of some of the other dancers. She also brings a nuanced believability to the role, portraying her as a rather soft and kind hearted soul. Chloë Grace Moretz has a rather small, yet significant role as Sara’s close friend, Patricia and she leaves a lasting impression that lingers through out the rest of the story. Angela Winkler, Renee Soutendijk and Ingrid Caven portray some of the dance school teachers, and they probably won’t receive as much credit as they deserve. They brought a really unnerving presence to their roles which was very effective. Now I’ve purposely not mentioned Tilda Swinton until now because there’s some interesting details about her role in this film. It’s not a spoiler to highlight that she actually portrays three different characters. There’s no significance to that detail in terms of the narrative so it’s okay to know that information going in. In fact that reason I’m pointing it out is because it makes witnessing her in action all that more impressive. First and foremost she plays Madame Blanc, the head of the dance school, who very quickly becomes infuriated with Susie’s determination and talents. There’s a lot that she brings to this particular performance with subtly and nuance that you don’t really notice is there, until you reach the later stages of the story and look back upon everything that has occurred thus far. Another character she portrays is the psychiatrist Dr. Jozef Klemperer. For this role she is completely covered in prosthetic make up to create the illusion that she is an elderly old man, who is at odds with the actions of his past and the ramifications of those exact actions. There’s a surprising amount of emotional weight bearing on this character, the only flaw with the performance is his voice at times sounds a little too soft and feminine, to be believable as the voice of an old man.

Luca’s direction left me stunned and in awe on many occasions, the way he and Sayombhu capture the dance set pieces is completely mesmerising. Every move of each dance feels impactful due to the level of talent these actresses display, but also due to the incredible sound mixing that amplifies the sound of the girls panting for breath, as well as layering each movement with a very dense sound of the air rushing past, or their feet clashing with the studio floors. The first time we see Susie dance displays this wonderfully. But the true standout dance sequence comes in the form of the “Volk”, a phenomenal sequence with an enticing, beautiful and at the same time, haunting dance at the centre of it. It was hypnotic in every sense of the word, I found myself on the edge of my seat, bug eyed and transfixed with what was occurring. It’s my favourite sequence of the year, without a doubt.

There’s two more sequences that have long lingered in my psyche since watching the film. One being the much talked about sequence that was shown at CinemaCon earlier this year (and briefly shown in the trailers), in which a dancer is tossed around a dance studio with her limbs contorting, as if she was a victim of Voodoo magic. It’s a very intense sequence that goes on far longer than you’d expect it to but despite that it never loses it’s shock value. In fact four people decided to tap out and walk out, of one of my screenings after this scene occurred. It’s not for the faint-hearted. The other sequence that has stuck with me is the films climax. I look forward to seeing how people react to the third act, it’s a striking symphony of violence that manages to uphold a feeling of sadness and sorrow as well. If you thought Luca was completely straying away from Dario’s vibrant colour palette, then you’re wrong. That final act is the one of the most artistically extravagant horror sequences of this decade.

Lastly, the musical score composed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is easily among the best scores this year, and certainly should be in contention for an Oscar nomination. He’s crafted a number of different compositions that invoke strong emotional responses. Some are very sinister, whilst others are very sorrowful, and he also splices vocals over some of his music, which just heightens the emotion that he’s trying to convey through it.

Overall, Suspiria is an extravagant reincarnation of Argento’s classic. It’s a captivating tale that features visceral imagery that will stick with you, but also contains thematic depth drenched in sorrow and the struggle for power. It’s a surreal and alluring artistic master stroke of horror.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5 Stars out of 5)


Suspiria – Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino.

Opening in Cinemas November 16th.


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