Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

After leaving her Ohio home and her Mennonite family, Susie, played by Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey), travels overseas to West Berlin in 1977 for admission to the Markos Dance Academy, a prestigious school governed by a group of matrons, including Madame Blanc, a stern instructor played by Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange). Meanwhile, an elderly male therapist, also portrayed by Swinton in heavy prosthetic makeup, grows increasingly suspicious while investigating the disappearance of one of the school's former dance students, played by Chloë Grace Moretz (Carrie), whom he had initially dismissed as delusional in light of her claims that the school is secretly run by a coven of witches.

When her dance talents impress her new teachers, Susie quickly earns the lead spot in the academy's next routine while also earning the respect and confidence of Sara, a classmate played by Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness). As the outside cityscapes, divided by the Berlin Wall, are besieged by the political violence associated with the Baader-Meinhof Gang and by the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181, Susie and Sara notice mysterious developments at the school and begin to ponder the agenda of its matrons. The lives of all of the above people will soon intertwine in an intensely macabre fashion as the true nature of the academy is revealed.

The 2018 film, Suspiria, which was directed by Luca Guadagnino on the heels of his critically-acclaimed 2017 release, Call Me by Your Name, is touted as a remake of the iconic 1977 Dario Argento classic of the same title, but it is not so much a faithful reimagining as it is a loosely-associated story that uses the original as a mere springboard from which to launch a myriad of intricate themes. Clocking in at almost an hour longer than the 1977 film, this new endeavor eschews Argento's visual assault of primary colors in favor of a drably muted palette more befitting of the story's exploration of Berlin's sociopolitical climate during the Cold War. In turn, the gleefully bonkers, yet superbly atmospheric music score that the Italian progressive rock band, Goblin, created for the original movie has been replaced with quietly nuanced and immensely haunting compositions recorded by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.

Most critics are denouncing this new Suspiria interpretation as a cinematic disaster full of overly pretentious political undertones that fail to materialize into coherent themes. I believe, however, that there is a beautiful, albeit viscerally unnerving, method to this madness that adeptly references present-day abuses of power and hints that such abuses of power will ultimately be met with a reckoning more brutal than anyone can imagine, while the most of us who ignored the warning signs of such a reckoning will have to see things that we hoped never to witness.

I suspect that this leisurely-paced cerebral motion picture will be quite divisive, and I am inclined to think that moviegoers who were turned off by the more elaborately surreal horror outings in recent years, like Hereditary, The Witch, or Under the Skin, may lose patience with this one as well. Those who are attuned to the occasionally nebulous, but visually entrancing flavor of foreign horror movies and independent cinema, however, may find, as I did, that there is much to love about this particular dance of death. I adore Dario Argento's original Suspiria, even to the point of attending a recent screening with a live concert score performance by Goblin, but I am also enthralled with this Guadagnino version, despite the vast differences between the two.

I must warn prospective viewers that the squeamish need not apply. One middle scene, where Dakota Johnson's Susie performs a jerky and hectic dance demonstration while, through the apparent power of witchcraft, another dancer's limbs and spine are snapped, folded, and contorted beyond recognition in perfect sync to her every move, will likely be the story development that elicits the most discussion from audiences. The final blood-drenched 20 minutes of this new take on Suspiria, however, come closer to a nightmare vision of Hell than anything that most horror movies can hope to match. As the specter of death walks through a ceremony and delivers punishment to the wicked, we pray that its judging eyes will not fall upon us in the same way.

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