Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash, 50 Shades of Grey) is Susie Bannion, a nervous but determined dancer from Ohio who auditions for the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin. She is accepted and led by the strict but witty Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). But, as uncovered by escaped dancer Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her elderly doctor Jozef Klemperer (also Swinton, in a glorious transformation), the teachers turn out to be part of a sinister coven of witches. And they don’t appreciate escapees.
Screenwriter David Kajganich (who previously collaborated with Guadagnino on A Bigger Splash) sets the homage in 1977, the year of the original, but ramps up the political context. The academy is across the road from a section of the Berlin Wall, and there are frequent radio broadcasts discussing the terrorist hijackings and murders of the time. The impact of the Second World War is also strongly felt, personified in Dr Jozef who lost his wife in 1943. Kajganich structures an intriguing convergence of this real postwar horror and the surreal horror thriving inside the academy.
Tilda Swinton underwent a glorious transformation to play Dr Josef, investigating the dance academy
The horror sequences are few and far between, but are no less disturbing. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Call Me By Your Name) approaches his visuals slowly, making the camera into a watchful ghost roaming around the academy corridors and the rainy streets of Berlin – before striking across the face with a Friedkin-Cronenberg marriage of body contortion (matching, and caused by, a violent dance by Susie). The film grows more gruesome, flipping between aggressive dreams and horrific secret passageways, before reaching a bloody, ritualistic conclusion that The Devils director Ken Russell would have been proud of.
This version of Suspiria is a full hour longer than Argento’s compact 90-minute original, and every scene is packed with detail. It’s as much a Cold War thriller as a horror movie – also following an investigation of the dance academy by Dr Jozef – but it fits into a genre completely of its own. Creating fear is too simplistic for Guadagnino – the images are crafted to unnerve and disturb, though don’t make an audience shiver too much. It’s different to the building panic attack of mother!, nor does it wield Climax’s hellish descent into chaos – but it’s a dark, stretched mystery that pushes for endless interpretation with every beat.
Suspiria is slow and ponderous, too much so at times, but Guadagnino provides an intellectual heart to a lowbrow concept. It’s an absorbing, psycho-sexual nightmare that will hopefully last as long as the original. And although this homage doesn’t retain Argento’s conventional playfulness, it certainly has more to say.
Reviewed at the 2018 London Film Festival. Suspiria will be released in the UK on 16 November 2018.
|What||Suspiria film review|
16 Nov 18 – 16 Nov 19, 12:00 AM
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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