Those with Weak Stomachs, Beware of “Suspiria”: a Movie Review

suspiria
Suspiria is Luca Guadagnino’s surreal take on the ’70s horror classic by Dario Argento (IMDb)

By TANIA AZHANG
Contributing Writer

Set in the German autumn of 1977, during the period of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, director Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria follows the story of Susie Bannon, a young American student from Ohio, and her experiences in the Markos Dance Academy, run by a coven of witches. As the story progresses, the mystery behind the witches begins to unravel and the film turns into a jumble of bloody chaos, not intended for the faint of heart. The film was released in select theaters on October 26, but gained a wide release on November 2, 2018.

Guadagnino chose to remake Suspiria following the success of his previous film, Call Me by Your Name, which garnered immense praise and won an Academy Award for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. However, his interpretation of Dario Argento’s original horror classic, also called Suspiria, is remarkably different from the juicy summer of Call My by Your Name. His fantastic use of imagery is present in both films. While audiences feel like they’re in Italy, smelling the breakfast on the table, hearing the birds chirping in the early morning in Call me by Your NameSuspiria is filled with chilling sequences that perfectly characterise the horror theme. In addition to his use of imagery, both films engage the audience very well. Guadagnino takes great care in bringing bloodcurdling gore to the screen in this horror flick, leaving audiences writhing in their seats.

Dakota Johnson, known for her work in How to Be Single, stars as the seemingly naive main character Susie. Playing the new girl, Johnson takes a stereotypical character and brings an unexpected twist to it. Throughout the film, her character is unwaveringly determined in joining the dance academy, not once doubting her place among the witches. This later leads to a plot twist that is only effective due to Johnson’s portrayal of Susie.

As for other notable performances, it’s impossible not to mention Tilda Swinton, who  plays not one, not two, but three characters. She plays Madame Blanc, Mother Markos, and Josef Klemperer. In allowing Swinton to explore herself artistically through three completely different characters, this film is perfect for Swinton. Swinton’s take on Madame Blanc, lead choreographer, is calm and charismatic. She portrays Joseph Klemperer as sorrowfully sympathetic, and Mother Markos is power hungry and infantile. In her roles as Klemperer and Markos, Swinton is unrecognizable, having undergone hours of heavy makeup. It is almost certain the Academy will not turn its attention from her performances this year.

When Guadagnino decided to remake Suspiria, he approached Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke to compose the soundtrack. Although it was certainly a challenge, Yorke was able to bring to life the unsettling and surreal in Suspiria. In addition to Yorke’s masterful composition, Swayambhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography pays homage to the ‘70s, bringing to life hair-raising montages that are nothing short of nightmarish. Inbal Weinberg’s production and costume design is beautiful and earthy-toned, true to the ‘70s era. All of these elements serve to make the film distinct and completely different from its predecessor by Argento.

Additionally, Guadagnino has an uncanny ability to show, not tell, in his films. This works incredibly well for Suspiria, as it is a film with plenty of room for interpretation. The script is well-written, providing a satisfying answer to most of the mysteries in the film. Despite this, however, there are many mysteries and themes still left unanswered in the end. The film runs on an ambitious six acts, which is a bit too long for a horror flick. Another criticism would be that the story’s setting in Cold War Germany does not contribute to the overall plot. Throughout the film, there are references to the Berlin Wall and other events that happen on the news, but these sequences do little to elucidate the moral of the story. However, Suspiria is a gem for indie-film lovers, who are willing to sift through the many easter eggs and illusions to understand Guadagnino’s fascination with the original story.

Despite its errors, Suspiria remains one of a kind. Guadagnino manages to craft a film that is not attempting to imitate Dario Argento’s classic, but is rather inspired by it. It is completely independent of the original 1977 horror drama and takes a life of its own. This is where the film, and Guadagnino, succeeds. Suspiria is unlike any horror film I’ve ever seen, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

 

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