Dario Argento’s classic 1977 giallo film Suspiria embodies a distinct mix of 1970s aesthetics: low production values, a cult interest in Satanism, psychedelia, and prog rock. It would seem difficult to re-create this now without it seeming like retro kitsch, but the remake by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, Call Me by Your Name) captures the sensory essence of the original while elevating it to diabolical epic and, if you’d like, historical and political allegory.
Suspiria version 2018 is set in Berlin in 1977. It’s the heady days of the Red Army Faction hostage crisis, when West German left-wing radicalism took the world stage. Dakota Johnson plays Susie, a dancer from Ohio drawn to the world-renowned modern dance academy led by Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc and founded by the elusive Madame Markos. Arriving in Berlin to bomb explosions and students marching in the streets, Susie auditions for the corps and is accepted to replace a dancer who has just disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
Here the mystery and mythology begin. Cloistered in the palatial academy, dancers whisper about witchcraft while their instructors maintain an unsettling command over them, body and soul. The disorienting pink and green overtones of Argento’s film are mostly absent, but the new Suspiria is an even richer study in film form. It’s rendered in a muted 1970s palette that, like a silent scream, lends a dull horror to its blood-splashed scenes (there are many). The sound editing gives dialogue, laughter, and weeping a dreamlike claustrophobia. Impressionistic montages press upon the narrative action with raw affect. And Damien Jalet’s demonic, gymnastic choreography, in which dancers extend and contract as though puppeted by an unseen force, is transfixing and reason enough to watch the film.
Running one whole hour longer than the original movie, Suspiria 2018 manages to knead in a new subplot that is explicitly feminist and seeks — somewhat inelegantly — historical interpretation. Enthusiasts of maternal horror will also find much to plumb. If you found something sublime in Trump’s notorious abjection of Megyn Kelly — “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” — Guadagnino’s Suspiria will be a feast.