When it was announced that director Luca Guadagnino was embarking on a remake of Dario Argento’s horror classic Suspiria it was met with a common response – what the fuck? Argento’s stylish horror film is beloved by the fervent base of horror aficionados and the sheer idea of remaking such a classic is blasphemous on its own. But when it comes to the movies you can’t write off any remake, reimagining, or reboot without actually seeing the film. Going in with a fair share of skepticism about Guadagnino’s new take on a horror classic, I was relieved that I walked away from the new Suspiria in utter shock of its sheer audacity. This isn’t a remake. This is its own unholy beast, an artistic exercise that is rapturous, ghastly, and beautiful, standing on its own and not in the shadows of the immense legacy of the film that inspired it. This new Suspiria is an astonishing film and one that general audiences will most likely reject wholesale.
Suspiria bills itself as six acts in divided Berlin. The political struggle of the era serves as backdrop for screenwriter David Kajganich’s reimagined story. Some of the story is rooted in the Argento’s original while other aspects are Kajganich’s additions. The film opens with Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) meeting with her therapist Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), as she discusses the strange visions and happenings that have caused her to leave the dance company which provided her work and shelter. At the same time, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has just used what little money she had to travel to Berlin to audition for Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and her acclaimed dance troupe which Patricia has just fled. The American import impresses Madame Blanc and is welcomed into the tight-knit world of this dance troupe, quickly forming a bond with Sara (Mia Goth). Strange happenings surround this dance troupe and things aren’t always what they seem, as Susie dives deeper and deeper into this off-kilter world in a Berlin divided by political strife.
Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is much more about creating an overwhelming sense of unease than startling audiences with jump scares. Guadagnino achieves this through some fascinating, albeit unusual editing techniques and crafting moments that relish in the bizarre. The gore and the ghastly hit in this film and when they do they’re astonishingly effective, but this film is much more atmospheric than simply trying to startle you.
Though written and directed by men, there’s a resolutely feminine quality to Suspiria. There are only a handful of men characters, and only a couple of them are even given lines. There’s a sexy quality to the film that’s not overtly erotic or explicit, a sensuality that is an undercurrent to the dance and elements of horror. Dakota Johnson continues to be one of the most captivating young actresses working today, and yet her great work is often overshadowed by Mia Goth’s turn as the skeptic stuck in the troubling troupe. Overseeing all of this unsettling and unusual sexual tension is the great Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc, who not only has to deal with the young women but the divisions that arise within the troupe’s leadership.
Whereas the Argento’s Suspiria is drenched in hyper-stylized neon colors, Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom go in the opposite direction. With its desaturized colors and (limited) use of split diopter, this new Suspiria looks more like a ‘70s movie than the ‘70s original. It’s a gritty aesthetic, a reimagining which takes a style to reflect the cold, gritty exteriors of Soviet controlled Eastern Europe.
Sitting in the theater watching Suspiria I knew I was witnessing greatness, a movie that would shut up the preemptive haters and would yet prove to be divisive. It’s an amazing stylistic digression following Guadagnino’s critically acclaimed Oscar winner Call Me By Your Name. It’ll take a couple viewings to fully dissect everything that Guadagnino and Kajganich have thematically swirling around their horror remake, but even on a single viewing it’s obvious that you’re watching something special. Mark my words, Suspiria may not be a hit with general audiences, probably get the dreaded (by some) F Cinemascore, but it will talked about for years to come as a modern genre classic.
A wild reimagining of Dario Argento’s horror classic, Luca Gudagnino’s Suspiria takes the story in a whole new direction, using the past as inspiration for a rapturous, unsettling, and sexy horror film that will divide audiences but endure as a modern classic.