Luca Guadagnino (director)
2h 32min (length)
15 November 2018 (released)
17 November 2018
Remakes of horror classics often fill fans of the genre with fear that they will not live up to the original.
This isn't true of Suspiria - Call Me By Your Name filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's reimagining of Dario Argento's 1977 supernatural thriller - as a stellar cast and the hiring of Radiohead's Thom Yorke to pen a haunting score mean that this is one reboot that has horror aficionados salivating with anticipation.
Guadagnino's film is not a straightforward retelling of the original's story, although it has the same basic premise. A young American dancer from a strict Mennonite family, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), bags an audition at a prestigious German dance company (moved from Freiburg to West Berlin for the new movie), whose matrons and choreographers, led by the aloof Madame Blanc (a commanding Tilda Swinton), are keeping a dark secret.
The plot, which is split into six chapters and an epilogue, takes place amid the Red Army Faction terror group's hijackings and attacks that hit Germany in the autumn and winter of 1977, and the disappearance of a dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), is blamed on her rumoured involvement with the group, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. However, before vanishing she visited her elderly psychotherapist Dr. Josef Klemperer (also Swinton, credited as Lutz Ebersdorf), to whom she incoherently described a trio of witches, Mater Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum, and Mater Lachrymarum.
After wowing Madame Blanc with her audition, Susie is taken on by the company and befriends Sara (Mia Goth), a dancer tasked with helping her settle in. Susie is quickly earmarked as a potential lead, but discovers that Blanc's choreography has an emotional and physical intensity that overwhelms her - although her discomfort is nothing to that felt by her colleague Olga (Elena Fokina).
Johnson, hitherto best known as Anastasia Steele in the woeful Fifty Shades franchise, gives an intriguing performance as Susie, adding edge and depth to the naivety she displayed in her role as E.L. James' sadomasochistic caricature.
As an audience, we are introduced to the dance academy's demonic and bloody secrets - with one bone-crushing, organ-twisting scene particularly wince-inducing - while Sara and the suspicious Dr. Klemperer attempt to make sense of the strange goings-on at the company. Susie initially helps her friend investigate, but is increasingly drawn towards the glory of becoming Madame Blanc's protege and distracted by vivid nightmares.
Yorke's ethereal score is the perfect accompaniment to a film that is every bit as strange and uncanny as its source material - albeit one that plays out in muted shades rather than the bright primary colours of Argento's original.
The avant-garde intertwining of dance with the occult ensures that one is always on edge, as any performance could have darker implications. Scenes cut from innocuous rehearsals or downtime to gruesomeness, without the warning one would get in a more mainstream thriller. This perfectly distills what's scary about demonic horror - the idea that unnatural forces are lurking, ready to turn ordinary life into a living hell.
At over two and a half hours in length, the film could have perhaps done with trimming down as things do begin to flag a little before a spectacularly unnerving climax. However, Guadagnino deserves to be lauded for creating a unique film that addresses themes including family, ambition, hedonism, as well as a divided Germany's post-war guilt, which intrigues as well as chills.