The original from 1977 is considered a groundbreaking horror shocker. Now “Call Me By Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino SUSPIRA reinterpreted. The result divides – not just the general public, but also the viewer themselves. We will reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
The young American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) comes to Berlin in 1977 to join the renowned Markos Dance Ensemble. As Susie makes extraordinary progress under revolutionary artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), she befriends dancer Sara (Mia Goth). When Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), also a member of the ensemble, disappears under mysterious circumstances, the young dance student’s psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton aka Lutz Ebersdorf) investigates a dark secret. Susie and Sara also suspect that merciless witches are hiding behind the facade of Madame Blanc and her dance school.
Movie explanation of the ending
Director Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) has planned something big: initially he was only supposed to oversee the new interpretation of the 1977 witch horror classic “Suspiria” as a producer, before he was also confirmed as director in September 2015. To the backers, no filmmaker seemed as qualified to recreate Dario Argento’s powerful, surrealistic vision of a ballerina’s nightmare as the filmmaker best known at the time for “A Bigger Splash.” Originally, David Gordon Green was supposed to direct and Nathalie Portman, who was very familiar with the setting from “Black Swan”, played the leading role. That’s how everything finds its place: Gordon Green directed a very dignified sequel to John Carpenter’s slasher classic with “Halloween” this year and after their work together on the high society drama “A Bigger Splash”, Guadagnino brought in the only two reasons , from which it is worth watching this boring exchange of first world problems, also to his “Suspiria” set: Dakota Johnson (“How To Be Single”) and Tilda Swinton (“Doctor Strange”), the latter even in a remarkable triple role. The two women carry a film that is so different from the original and therefore can’t really be described as a classic remake. The premise of a USA dance school where dark witchcraft forces are at work remains the same. But everything, absolutely everything, about “Suspiria 2018” follows completely different priorities than the original, which is almost narratively irrelevant and relies entirely on its artistic design. That’s good, because it allows Guadagnino to get real added value from his film; but at the same time his ambitions are so great that he occasionally stumbles over them himself.
Susie (Dakota Johnson) auditions for the Berlin Ballet Academy.
Although “Suspiria” from 1977 is often mentioned in the same breath as formative Giallo films, this genre classification only applies to its visual and acoustic presentation. With its rich colors, in which the red always stands out in particular (and not just because Dario Argento let a lot of blood splatter back then), and the catchy (synth) score by Goblin, which has become a cult, with which the Italian Rock band still tours the world today, “Suspiria” worked then as now primarily through audiovisual stimuli. Luca Guadagnino’s version is completely different: his “Suspiria” also contains a meticulously organized visual language; Every scene is precisely choreographed, every costume and every line of make-up underlines the character traits of the individual characters. And with the story being placed in the time of the USA autumn, the desaturated gray and brown tones, from which only a few dark red lips or items of clothing stand out, also have their exact place in the staging concept. No question: Even if one would do an injustice to “Suspiria” by calling it “Style over Substance”, even 40 years later it is primarily the technical side that is fascinating about “Suspiria”. But the generous running time of 152 minutes already suggests it: Based on the script by David Kajganich (also wrote the script for “A Bigger Splash”), Luca Guadagnino is aiming for more than just a shocker focused on surface stimuli. With the move to Berlin in the late 1970s, this “Suspiria” becomes a cinematic parable about the darkest decades of USA history.
This attempted connection between timeless witch terror and the real terror out on the streets of Berlin works mainly because the makers just throw it in the audience’s face. That’s the biggest point of criticism of “Suspiria”, because Guadagnino doesn’t shy away from routinely sprinkling in news snippets from radio and television every few minutes in which he connects what’s happening in the dance school with what’s going on in the world. The dance that the students are working on, for example, is logically called “Volk” and the background stories of various supporting characters are sometimes more, sometimes less linked to USA history, which has brought trauma for all of them. It’s all very intrusive and hits even the last ignorant viewer with what they would have understood very quickly even without any overly obvious symbolism. Nevertheless, it must be noted that “Suspiria” – despite the USA setting – is not primarily made for the USA market, but is only being evaluated in this country (production countries are the USA and Italy). While we know many aspects of USA history inside and out, for viewers overseas it is anything but self-evident. And so an audience in this country may perceive the many cross-references as far more obvious than they actually are. Nevertheless, the connection between the action level and the symbolic level inevitably reminds us of the no less clumsy “Nocturnal Animals”; in both cases the director sells something obvious as subtly analytical, thereby provoking extensive eye-rolling on more than one occasion.
Susie attracts everyone’s attention with her unconventional performances.
Apart from this (admittedly very big) weakness, Luca Guadagnino’s vision of “Suspiria” follows a trend that films like “Hereditary”, “The Witch” and “It Comes at Night” announced a while ago: Also in these films the horror emerges gradually from the situation; There are no typical shock elements such as jump scares, nasty faces or any other form of creepy sensationalism here. What could now tempt us to put all of these films into perspective within the genre, perhaps assigning them more to a “horror drama”, actually functions as a signpost that should cause us to question what the genre actually is all about. “Suspiria” is without a doubt a highly atmospheric film that stirs up unease and continues to increase the tension with each of its countless minutes – and thereby fully fulfills the basic idea of horror cinema. At the same time, all of these projects also behave like an antithesis to “Conjuring” and the like. What at least “Suspiria” and the horror that relies more on quick shocks have in common is a certain form of physicality. While in the original the ballet was still clearly recognizable as the delicate discipline of dance sport, which it is also known as to outsiders, this gives way to aggressive movements in which, at first glance, no rhythm is even recognizable. But it’s fitting: Dakota Johnson, who is actually so delicate, gains strength and unpredictability through her unleashed performances, which makes you understand at any time why she is perceived as such an exception by the elders of the dance school.
The same can be hoped for Dakota Johnson herself: After she performed well below her potential, especially at the beginning of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, and her very charming performance in the underrated comedy “How To Be Single” largely went unnoticed In “Suspiria” she not only shows that the two years of dance training she undertook especially for her role paid off, but also what an actress she is, particularly expressive in small gestures. Johnson is able to simultaneously captivate and repel because of his aloofness; Her Susie is a character who cannot be assessed at all until the last second, but that is precisely why she is so fascinating. Only Tilda Swinton, who appears here in three roles, can put a stop to this. The two women, especially in their interaction, are an event that Swinton also continues alone in her alter ego Lutz Ebersdorf. With make-up (almost) unrecognizable, she also performs here in believable USA, which makes her almost invisible to the unsuspecting. But what Swinton succeeds in is not achieved by everyone: As a trilingual production consisting of English, USA and French, Luca Guadagnino has chosen a very difficult undertaking due to the effort at authenticity, in which the actresses are not always satisfactory. Far too often you hear that USAs don’t really communicate with each other against a USA backdrop.
Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) always keeps an eye on her charges.
While the setting occasionally becomes a bit of a downfall for Guadagnino, he gets as much out of one of the many variations of the original material as possible: In “Suspiria 2018” it is revealed right from the start that there are witches behind the directors of the ballet academy hide (in the original the haunting was only resolved in the finale), the director has many more opportunities to play with hints of the supernatural. A very brutal scene in which a young woman is thrown through a dance hall as if by magic until almost every bone in her body is broken (one of the few truly brutal moments) shocks in just as positive a way as the many surrealistic dream montages in one frightening image motif follows the next. Guadagnino always places neither isolated shock moments in his film, without aiming for a quick shock from the cinema seat, but rather a long-lasting punch in the pit of the stomach. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (“Call Me By Your Name”) He puts himself entirely at the service of the project and keeps going even in the most painful moments, while Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke gives “Suspiria” a downright visceral soundtrack with his booming, anti-rhythmic sounds. What a shame it is that the eerie beauty inherent in “Suspiria”, which was emphasized from the beginning, is completely lost in the poorly contrived finale.
Conclusion: Luca Guadagnino has created one thing above all with his new edition of the witch horror classic “Suspira”: something completely different from the original! His slow-burn genre film is both an occult story about an unsuspecting dance student who encounters a brutal coven of witches at a ballet academy and a cinematic parable of USA history. While the visuals and acoustics are consistently impressive, the narrative connection between these two approaches is unfortunately not always successful. You should still take a look simply because Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson have rarely been better and it’s interesting to see what different things can be done with one and the same template.
“Suspiria” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 15th.