Suspiria is the devil dressed in tights and leotards. She allures and intrigues, disturbs and horrifies. Her body contorts into an array of grotesque positions. Limbs bend and break, bones protrude from taut skin. Yet the dance she performs is visceral, so fascinating it’s impossible to look away.
A remake of Dario Argento’s horror classic seems like an unexpected choice for Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to Call Me By Your Name, but it’s a welcome change of pace. Mostly known for making movies about rich people lounging around pools in Italy, Guadagnino has instead transported us to 1970s Berlin. Though it should be said that this iteration of Suspiria is less a remake and more like the creepy cousin no one wants to talk to at the family gathering.
You never really watch the original for the plot – technicolour splashes of red and green took precedence over the sinister coven of witches masquerading as a dance company. Screenwriter David Kajganich conversely unspools everything that was only alluded to in the past, expanding on every element of subtext present. History and politics are foregrounded: the Berlin Wall still stands tall and references are made to the Baader-Meinhof Group, a far-left organisation which Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) was an active member of before she mysteriously disappears.
Split into “six acts and an epilogue set in a divided Berlin”, the film begins much like the original as Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the renowned Markos Dance Academy. She is untrained and inexperienced but her audition captures the attention of the head instructor, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). An untraceable power oozes from Susie as her body moves in ways that are primal, set to an unsettling score from Thom Yorke as his voice takes a spectral form. “I think it felt like what it must feel like to fuck,” Susie says after her first practice. The movie feels like that too.
The film takes a much deeper dive into its protagonist than the original, tracing back her roots to an Ohio farm, on the bedside of her dying mother. The addition of a backstory is kind of pointless, but is also vital in establishing the figure of the mother. The Three Mothers rule, and Susie’s obsession with Blanc as a replacement mother figure drives her to a chilling descent. The matriarch is so intrinsically linked to Suspiria, so omnipresent in every frame, she is almost a god. This is no caring mother though – Suspiria documents the furious wrath of woman, and her power to build and destroy. It’s unfortunate then that even though women dominate the frame – to the extent that even the men are played by women – the crew behind the camera is mostly men.
Nevertheless, Luca Guadagnino’s vision is one of sinister beauty. Desaturated by murky browns and greys, the moment when blood is drawn feels disturbingly euphoric. But bloody this definitely is. Suspiria is an unholy concoction of piss and guts, spilling out from every pore and orifice. It’s disgusting, yes, but for 152 haunting minutes, I was irrevocably enchanted by its hypnotic spell.