The Pitch: Dario Argento’s giallo masterpiece gets an even more visually indulgent arthouse update from director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name). The elevator pitch is roughly the same: Young American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) gets accepted into a prestigious women’s dance conservatory in Germany circa 1977. Though the school’s location is transplanted from Freiburg to Berlin, it’s still run by a coven of powerful witches. If that sounds like a spoiler, rest assured, it’s not. Unlike its predecessor, the 2018 Suspiria confirms its occult connections early on, leaving plenty of space to explore the more primal aspects of motherhood, and some political subtext thrown in for good measure.
Dead Can Dance: In the original, most of the carnage took place away from the dance floor in elaborate kill sequences that owed as much to Rube Goldberg machines as they did splatter cinema. Here, the violence and supernatural occurrences are instead delivered through the choreography itself — transference takes place during a visceral Butoh performance; kicks and plies become tools for crippling body horror; and the dance mirrors hide any number of secrets that are too good to spoil here. Although the latest Suspiria is arguably more graphic than its source material, there’s a mesmerizing grace that separates it from Argento’s. Even at its goriest, this is a dance film as much as it’s a horror film.
Radiodead: Just as notable as Suspiria‘s entrancing choreography is its score. Composed by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke (his first-ever feature-length soundtrack), there are a handful of nods to the horror-synth attacks of Goblin, as already heard in the film’s trailers. But there’s also a delicacy at play whenever Yorke highlights the film’s more internal character moments. Contemplative piano takes us into Susie’s past as a Mennonite, and jazz drums smoothly hiss during strolls taken by Susie’s roommate, Sara (Mia Goth), through the school’s cavernous halls. If Yorke truly was “making spells” when dreaming up Suspiria‘s music, not all of them were frightening.
The film’s aesthetic complexity.extends to the performances as well. From the trailer, it seemed that Tilda Swinton‘s dance instructor, Madame Blanc, would be positioned as the big bad in Suspiria. While no one in their right mind would call her the hero of the story, there’s an unexpected warmth to her performance that transcends what we would expect from a typical villain in a horror movie. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that she most likely donned several pounds of prosthetics to also play an elderly male psychiatrist.
The Verdict: At 152 minutes, Suspiria is nearly an hour longer than Argento’s 1977 original. Although that will undoubtedly make it a slow burn for some of the horror-going public, the expansive runtime allows Guadgnino, screenwriter David Kajganich, and the rest of their team to actually build upon the source material, rather than just revisit it. By the time we finally do get to the blood and guts, the filmmakers have laid such an artful foundation that the viscera is just another part of Suspiria‘s hypnotic modern dance.