Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As someone who had fallen in love with Dario Argento’s cult classic years before, it was more than difficult for me to miss the release of the remake because of a cancelled movie date—I’m clearly very much over it—and be forced to watch it even later on digital release, but I’m here to say it was worth the long wait. I’ve been incredibly excited ever since I discovered Luca Guadagnino would be spearheading this remake, and he delivered in every sense of that word. He remade Suspiria.

Opening the film is Chloë Grace Moretz’s Patricia Hingle storming into her psychiatrist’s office. She’s ragged-looking and paranoid and scared, talking about the hidden secrets behind the walls of the dance company she’s part of. The inner workings of the academy are chronicled in her journals; witchcraft and worshipped figures detailed in letters and diagrams. In great emphasis are three names: Mater Tenebaraum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mater Suspiriorum.

From the direct establishment of danger, we shift to Ohio in 1977. After the death of her mother, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) travels to Berlin in hopes of joining the Tanz Dance Company. She quickly fills the open space left by a mysterious missing student after impressing the company’s head choreographer, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), and its matrons. Susie wins their favour not just with her raw talent—having absolutely no professional training prior to her joining their company—but with her I Can Do It! disposition as well. During one of their first practice sessions for one of their most famous pieces, a student named Olga loses her temper and claims Blanc and the matrons were responsible for Patricia’s disappearance, not buying into their cover story of her fleeing to serve a political party, of which we see glimpses of in excerpts of news reports throughout the film. The matrons do nothing but allow Susie to dance as they watch Olga storm out of the room, more than ready to leave, but there’s a glimmer in their eyes that betray their stoic reactions. She attempts to leave the building but finds herself in a mirrored studio. She’s heaving and gasping for air and she’s sweating so profusely that the liquids seeping from her pores look too thick to be water. Susie begins dancing the infamous piece and suddenly Olga is in a chokehold. With every twist, turn, and jump she makes, the other dancer reaps the action. Blanc has linked them together, with Susie as the bar, Olga as the puppet, and dark magic as the strings tangling Olga’s body together. This scene encapsulates what the entire movie is: unapologetic, gnarly, and mesmerizing.

While being plagued by nightmares isn’t smooth sailing for anyone, Susie’s main problems are relatively child’s play in comparison to Olga, who is discovered by the matrons in the other studio. They’re just as unfeeling as they were when they knowingly let her leave, and they pierce through her body with giant hooks with no problem as they drag Olga’s bleeding, disfigured body out into their hidden room. They have much bigger things to worry about than some student that pissed them off—they have Mother Markos, an old witch that had led their coven for years now. They’d rather keep serving her than to let Madame Blanc take over as their new leader, so much so that they even considered turning Susie into a new host body for their beloved head of house. In a stark contrast to their nonchalance with torture and killing, we have Miss Griffith, who is overwhelmed beyond repair and stabs herself in the neck with a fork. She marks the breaking point of the state of tension and fragility we’ve felt from the beginning, like cracks growing after Patricia’s sudden absence pierces through the glass of the academy. From here the crack grows even faster. 

While Susie climbs the hierarchy of dancers and becomes the protagonist in their most famous production, Klemperer tries to convince Susie’s classmate and Patricia’s friend Sara (Mia Goth) to look into the mysterious collective, mentioning that Patricia had written about secret rooms in the academy. Despite turning down his request, Sara eventually begins investigating the building, eventually finding the Mutterhaus chamber by the night of the show. She discovers Patricia hidden deep within the chamber, along with other equally disfigured dancers, as well as an exposed, unmoving body at the end of the room. While trying to find her way back out of the hidden wing, her foot is trapped in gashes that the matrons create in the floor she’s running across and snaps her leg in half, breaking the bone straight through. I guess even witches believe the show must go on because they actually heal the skin over protruding bone and have her dance her part in the performance, moving just as helplessly as Olga had in the earlier dance sequence. She was another puppet, though this time the strings didn’t pull at her as much as they had. Right before the routine ends, Sara collapses and is screaming in pain, alerting the audience and Klemperer, who had come to watch. He leaves immediately and comes home to find his long-lost wife Anke (Jessica Harper!!!), who had apparently faked her death and lived in England away from the war, but this happiness is taken from him just as quickly as it’s given to him. He finds himself back in West Berlin, right outside the academy, where it’s revealed Anke’s return has been the witches’ doing. We see Susie prepare herself for a ritual, where the matrons are expecting her along with an incapacitated Klemperer. Helena Markos, the head of their hive, greets Susie and the witches begin to disembowel a catatonic Sara, starting the ritual. We see a clear hesitance in Madame Blanc, who attempts to yield the ceremony only to provoke Mother Markos, who gives her one look and slices majority of her neck through. Amidst the chaos, Susie is calm. Calmer than anyone ever expected until they realize why—she summons a figure from the depths of the academy, who is undoubtedly Death in its living form. Death was Susie’s dying mother. And Susie is Mother Suspiriorum, rising from Death and coming to reclaim the coven that was led astray by another Mother, ridding the reborn coven with those whose hearts stayed loyal to Markos. Mother Suspiriorum takes mercy, however, on Patricia, Olga, and Sara, all of whom are no longer fit to live. Klemperer is released as well, allowed to return to his residence. Mother gives him a visit and allows him the knowledge of what truly happened to his wife: she had died in a concentration camp, but she had passed in peace, thinking of her happiness with him the entire time, and with that, Mother relieves him of his guilt—from Anke to the students that he felt he had failed—and leaves.

I’m sure purists of the original film would have a lot to say about this one, but even as a die-hard fan of the original, I absolutely loved it. Though it deviates from the flow and plot of the 1977 version (yes, the year Guadagnino actually set this film in), I couldn’t help but appreciate how it did so. They turned the original’s bold, striking colours into bleak, muted pastels that often reminded me of American Gothic’s colour palette. Thom Yorke’s scoring contributed another wave of surrealism to the film’s incredible set and costume design, truly transporting you to another world in another time. Even with its independent accomplishments, I have to commend the homage to the original, from Jessica Harper to the red light that swallows the room when Mother Suspiriorum ravages the coven. Speaking of which, Dakota Johnson was a pleasant surprise. I’ve always felt like she had a lot of potential, but this proves that with the right director, she can do great things. She held her own even alongside Tilda Swinton, who played three (3!!!) distinct characters brilliantly. Did she have to play all three of them? Not really, but she did a good job of doing so. Mia Goth was a stand-out as well, especially in that ethereal dance number. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more from her and Johnson in the future. There’s something about the way this encapsulates an unsettling horror, and yet it’s not something you can look away from. It draws you in, like a window you want to peer into.

Suspiria was the equivalent of glass being pierced—with a new crack slithering down the panel as each act went on, the fracture slicing through quicker until it finally shattered, leaving nothing but open space and an air of free clarity.

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