2018, R, 152 min. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Grace Moretz, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Nov. 2, 2018
Suspiria is a movie about monsters for monsters. In Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the essential giallo horror film, bones crack and urine squirts as girls fling and gyrate their bodies across the dance floor of a prestigious ballet school in 1977 Berlin. The academy is next to the wall that separates East and West Germany, giving its setting an eerie vibe, reminding you that these girls have willingly traveled to one of the world’s darkest cities to pursue their passion.
Susie (Johnson) is one of those very lucky girls. Without any classical training, she is snatched from her country home in Ohio to come learn from her idol, Madame Blanc (Swinton). In a single day she rises to the lead, impressing the coven of witchy women who run the academy. Susie contorts her body, slamming her limbs on the floor in a hypnotic ecstasy that is as sexy as it is frightening. She’s a natural, and it feels like dancing chose her rather than the other way around, and as her confidence blossoms under the watchful eye of Madame Blanc, she becomes a force so powerful that it starts to intimidate. With the attentive help of Blanc, Susie rapidly becomes the illuminating star of the academy.
It should be noted that Suspiria is the rare movie where every major speaking role is performed by a woman, including Dr. Josef Klemperer, who is played by chameleon Swinton. This is purposeful, for the movie is about women taking back their art and pain from the towering world of men. In the opening scene, Patricia (Moretz) flees to Dr. Klemperer, frantically moving around his office in a hypnotic rhythm explaining that her dance academy is not what it seems. He hears her words, but doesn’t listen to them. Her pleas for help go ignored, and because her confidant didn’t believe, she disappears, evaporating into the misty mornings of Berlin.
But what Suspiria proposes isn’t that men should listen, it’s that women don’t need their approval to be heard. For too long women have suffered at the mistakes of men, not excluding Dr. Klemperer’s late wife, whom he was separated from during World War II. He holds out hope that his mistake to keep her in Berlin longer didn’t end up being the death of her, and keeps their old home in East Berlin ready for a homecoming that will never happen.
Suspiria is not just about taking back art, but it’s also about the rebirth of it in darkness. The coven of witches who run the ballet academy are stuck in a loop where the unseen Mother Markos rules all. When Susie enters it’s hard to tell if she’s under Markos’ spell, or if she is aggressively fighting against it with her powerful thrusts, dizzying twirls, and jagged dancing style.
Suspiria is not a movie that will gel with everyone. It will awaken the sickest, most twisted parts of your mind if you allow it. While Dario Argento’s influence softly permeates the film, there are other genre influences like J-horror (Audition, Ringu), Eighties classics (Hellraiser), and New French Extremity horror (Martyrs). Even with all of these influences, Guadagnino’s flair still echoes throughout the movie, never losing himself in the clever mixing of genre. Suspiria is a fantastical nightmare that has the potential to convince those who doubt remakes of classics aren’t as strong as their mothers.
For an interview with writer David Kajganich and star Jessica Harper, read "Summoning Darkness," Nov. 1.