The very idea of remaking Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria just seemed blasphemous. And it is, but there’s no other way it could have been. It had to be an evil, vile, uncompromising yet equally heartbreaking, gorgeous and strangely empathetic work. Luca Guadagnino’s remake is a blasphemous work, and I mean that 100% as a compliment. It felt like I was watching something blasphemous, something that manifested a bone-chilling, gorgeous evil right in front of me. At one point in the film, the witches say that they want a witness to a certain ceremony of theirs but that it will drive that person crazy – it had a similar effect on me and I’m sure plenty of others that watched this.
Guadagnino takes the basic plot of the original – American dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) gets accepted into a prestigious dance academy headed by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and slowly discovers the school is a front for a coven of powerful witches – but sets it in 1977 in the divided Berlin of the Cold War.
Dakota Johnson delivers her best performance to date here, combining a sense of innocence and beguiling darkness that’s quite gripping. To say much more might ruin a surprise. Tilda Swinton is as glorious as ever here and she knows it, dunking through each scene with an undeniable grace and swagger. There’s one scene where she eats a chicken wing and her eye twitches and even that is captivating in Swinton’s hands. Not satisfied with delivering one great performance in this film, Tilda Swinton instead goes for three and bats 1.000 for the game. I don’t want to give away the other roles she plays, even though they’re a google search away, but I’ll just say that there is some fantastic make-up and prosthetics work in this film and that Swinton is one of the only performers capable of pulling this off. I’m left to wonder, can an actress get a best supporting actress nod for two different roles in the same film – or can we nominate her for both best supporting actress and best supporting actor in the same film? Mia Goth, Elena Fokina, Angela Winkler and others round it out with impressive turns.
If you gave me the decision over who should direct a Suspiria remake, Luca Guadagnino would not be someone I ever thought of, but he was absolutely the right choice. Luca has range, he can go from making a queer arthouse film in Call Me By Your Name right into an arthouse horror film and I wouldn’t have known it was done by the same guy unless you told me. This is a gnarly film, taking just as much delight in its evil as it does horror. There are some loving nods to the original, but this is by far its own original work too. It is two and a half hours, and does feel like that at times, but I also wouldn’t have cut any of it. It earns its length overall. I need to go watch Guadagnino’s earlier work as I’ve only seen this and Call Me By Your Name, but I like what I’ve seen so far.
The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is phenomenal. This is not the iconic, neon-drenched look of Argento’s film. It’s a much bleaker feel, with Mukdeeprom harnessing natural light in such a mesmerizing way while hinting at a darker presence throughout. Just about every shot feels threatening in some way, like something horrible is about to happen. You’re just stuck in this constant state of dread because of his work. Mukdeeprom and Guadagnino even lovingly mimic certain styles of shots popular with Argento and other filmmakers at the time with snap-zooms and such which made me giddy. Thom Yorke delivers some of his best work outside of Radiohead with his score for the film, crafting a work that is haunting and emotional, and distinctively Yorke.
In the age of studios remaking anything that has already been made, I appreciate that Guadagnino and company took this opportunity to deliver a gonzo, deeply unsettling film. It thankfully veers far from just a simple redo of the film, but instead becomes its own beast right from the start and never lets up. It should have been easy for me to hate this film just because it’s a remake with how much I love the original, but I’ve been on board ever since the first trailer was released. You could tell then that this was going to be special and unique. It took me far longer to get out to the theater to see this than I would have liked, but I’m glad I did. Suspiria owns one of my favorite third acts this year. I don’t have a clue as to what was happening for most of it, but I’m okay with that, because it was gorgeously and grippingly horrifying. What happens when a vengeful god returns to punish the non-believers?