Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Running Time: 152 mins
Suspiria is an Italian/American film about a dance company in Cold War-era Berlin that finds itself haunted by dark forces, engulfing all those who draw near.
This has to be one of the boldest films ever made. Remaking an absolute classic of cult cinema in Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino goes all out to tell the same story from the complete opposite perspective, crafting a deeply unsettling and bleak piece combined with ruthless and terrifying horror, all of which comes together to make a truly startling watch.
We’re often too easily critical of remakes for the simple fact of being remakes, however Guadagnino’s Suspiria is the quintessential remake, perfectly summing up why it’s a technique that can be used to everyone’s benefit. While Argento’s 1977 film was a rapid-paced and over-the-top thriller complete with a kaleidoscope of colours, Guadagnino does the exact opposite with his film, turning the same story into something deeply morbid and bleak, but in doing so breathing a completely new life into something that you may think you’ve already seen.
So, while it’s fair to compare the two films on a surface level, the fact of the matter is that the two Suspirias couldn’t be more different, and while the original is a hugely entertaining nightmare, this remake is something far darker and disturbing.
First off, I’m not even going to pretend to understand everything that happened in this film, because it’s such an immensely long and deeply layered piece. As a result, it’s the sort of movie that will likely become more intelligible and revealing with numerous rewatches, but on first viewing, it proves a fascinating enigma that’s just as riveting to watch as it is difficult to unlock.
Playing out over six acts, the story’s main focus sees the girls and teachers at a prestigious dance academy find themselves at the centre of bizarre and disturbing dark forces. However, there is a whole lot more to Suspiria than that, and unlike the original’s role as more of a haunted house thriller, this remake is far more focused on the core psychological trauma that goes on as things become ever darker and more menacing.
In that, there is some stunning emotional power here, and in keeping with the film’s desperately bleak atmosphere, pretty much all of it is ruthless and devastating to experience. You may not exactly understand what’s happening or why, but the genius of Guadagnino’s film is that it’s still hugely affecting regardless, a testament to the brilliance of so much of the work put in here.
It’s not an easy-going film by any means, and if you’re looking for a more run-of-the-mill drama, then I’m afraid you’re going to be rather horrified by Suspiria. However, with its combination of terrifying psychological and physical horror, the movie is a startling watch throughout, and one that takes what was once a rather ridiculous premise, and turn it into something very real and truly unsettling.
Of course, it’s not just the screenplay that achieves this, as Guadagnino’s bold direction, in tandem with some exceptional cinematography, creates one of the eeriest and most unnerving atmospheres I’ve ever felt in a film, lending further tension and drama to the story.
At over two and a half hours long, Suspiria is a rather exhausting watch, something that’s compounded by its excruciatingly slow pacing, as well as an emphasis on atmospheric and diegetic sounds over more orthodox dialogue.
However, with the stunningly unsettling slow pans and zooms of the camera, the bleak, washed-out colour palette, and the incredible use of natural sounds, the film suddenly becomes a cauldron of all that is disturbing, and as the tension and horror builds and builds in excrutiating and ruthless fashion over the course of the immense runtime, you feel more and more paranoid that something really strange is going on, even to the point that you feel like there’s something outside the film’s parameters always watching, which really unnerved me.
Suspiria is somewhat of a technical masterpiece, and it makes for a hugely striking watch throughout, both on a superficial level, as well as its role in fostering further darkness and tension deeper within.
Finally, a word has to go to some of the performances here, because although there isn’t anything anywhere near as spectacular as the original film, so much of the acting is integral to the film’s depth and atmosphere.
Tilda Swinton’s presence is stunning on screen, and particularly in her role as a leading ballet instructor, she commands both a terrifying and reassuring aura, something that I can’t say I’ve ever seen before. Meanwhile, Dakota Johnson puts in what is surely the best performance of her career so far, engrossing you deeply in her character without ever going out of her way to stand out, to the point that she’s such a magnetic and still enigmatic presence, where absolutely anything could happen and turn the entire story on its head.
Overall, then, Suspiria is a pretty masterful film. Deeply disturbing and immensely unnerving at every moment, furthered by exceptional visuals and directing, as well as a whole host of stunning performances, it’s one of the most boldly atmospheric films you’ll ever see. Its story is full of depth and emotion, and although it is a rather incomprehensible enigma on first viewing, I’m sure it’s something that will evolve and open up as the years go by. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but it is without doubt a film that pushes boundaries, and that’s why I’m giving Suspiria an 8.0.