Suspiria ★★★★

In hindsight, ballet and witches in the original Suspiria were practically incidental: window-dressing to confine its cast in a singular location and contextualize otherworldly happenings. The existence of a coven didn’t even become apparent until near the finale and even then such a revelation was no more significant than if it had been of a pagan cult or devil worshippers.

Luca Guadagnino’s chilly reimagining of Suspiria does not play coy with such elements, instead embracing their narrative power to craft a tale of sinister rebirth and occult treachery amidst Cold War tension. Where Argento was excessive and stylistically surreal, Guadagnino is cold, brutalist, unnerving. The shocking giallo-inspired murder spectacle of ‘70s Italian horror becomes skin-crawling defilement and gory cruelty. Then, a dream-like surge of weird imagery, discordant music, and swaths of color; now, a slow-burn swell of dread, unease, and nightmarish rites.

What really elevates this version over the original for me is its portrayal of the coven. Far from 1977’s nebulous exaggerated evil, Blanc, Tanner, and the rest are quickly established as a community, a functional cabal of distinct personalities and steeped in arcane tradition. They govern, they laugh, they gleefully bewitch, they bicker and clash; while the world seethes with political violence and oppression, the coven endures. When an outside authority enters their domain, the moment is one of fearless amusement. These witches are characters rather than just a lurking menace, and their improved depiction fundamentally transforms the dynamic of the dance academy compared to Argento’s film. Instead of a ballet school where weird stuff happens, the Tanz always feels like a facade, a sanctum masquerading to entrap and groom.

While the original’s inclusion of ballet seemed like a contrivance, 2018’s version thrusts choreography to the forefront of the story, as hypnotic and purposeful ritual in motion. Within the halls of the academy, to dance is to surrender one’s self to instinct and energy...and other forces. The gracefully-distressing contortions of Susie and others bring to mind the puppeteered bodies of the possessed. There’s power in their exotic prostration: bodies broken, dark attention drawn, unhallowed ceremony performed, all through serpentine movement.

Themes of motherhood weave through Suspiria’s multi-act nightmare: Blanc’s maternal guidance of Susie, the hushed invocations of the Three Mothers, vignettes of domestic struggle and abuse at motherly hands. But with the role of a parent comes the responsibility to reward and punish, and Suspiria’s final judgment is a rapturous crimson-drenched feast that would make Argento proud.

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