By Daniel O’Connell
Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Suspiria
Back in 1978, Italian horror director Dario Argento released Suspiria, a supernatural horror film that followed Susie Bannion, an American ballet student who transfers to Germany to study at a prestigious dance academy. However, after a series of brutal murders, she soon discovers that the academy is a haven for a coven of witches. Critics and audiences alike proclaimed the film as Argento’s best work. Particular praise went to its haunting, ominous atmosphere, its use of vibrant, saturated colors to enhance said atmosphere, and its memorable, enchanting soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin. For years, the idea of a remake lingered around, with David Gordon Green rumored to direct. However, Italian director Luca Guadagnino (director of the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name) finally got the project off the ground. Rather than being a remake in the traditional sense, Guadagnino claims that the film is more of an homage to the feelings he had while watching the original film for the first time. And what he delivers is one hell of an experience.
Thin plot supported by great performances
The film follows the basic outline of the original: American ballet student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) attends the Markos Dance Academy, headed by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) in West Germany in 1977. However, she soon begins investigating the school and the disappearance of a student named Patrica (Chloe Grace Moretz). Joining her in this investigation are fellow student Sara (Mia Goth) and psychologist Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton in drag and heavy make-up). And they soon discover that the school has a dark secret to it.
Like with the original film, the plot of the movie matters very little here. An odd bit in the film is that it will occasionally show news reports about the crimes of Baader-Meinhof Gang, such as the hijacking of the Landshut plane. These moments honestly add nothing to the movie, other than to remind the audience about the setting of the film. The only real way that this has any bearing on the plot is that it is mentioned that Patricia may be involved with the group, but this is quickly dropped.
While the plot may be lacking, the performances of the lead actors are excellent. Dakota Johnson gives a great performance as Susie, who, while being quiet throughout most of the film, becomes creepy and unnerving towards the end. However, the real standout among the actors is Tilda Swinton in her dual roles of Madame Blanc and Dr. Josef Klemperer. Blanc feels like a role that Swinton would usually play, but Klemperer is a completely different story. This role is unlike any that Swinton has done before, and she is completely transformed. You would be forgiven for not realizing it is her under all of that make-up.
Disturbing visuals, fantastic cinematography and a haunting score
Much like the original film, what the film lacks in plot it makes up for in visuals and style. The film structures itself like a play, with an opening title card saying that it has seven acts and an epilogue. While the original film was known for its vibrant color palette, this film takes an opposite approach. It is filmed in dark colors, especially earthy browns, that give the film a sinister, foreboding quality to it. The use of these colors accomplishes the same goal that the original’s vibrant colors did: to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Compounding these visuals is the cinematography. The film is well-shot, and it does some interesting things such as circle around a table where a group of characters are meeting or suddenly zoom in on a character’s face. There are a lot of close up shots in the film, which gives the viewer a feeling of discomfort and unease.
One of the highlights of the film would have to be its score. It was conducted by Thom Yorke, best known as the lead singer of Radiohead. There is a song that appears in both the opening and closing of the film that bears a resemblance to a Radiohead song. This would feel out of place, but it does a great job of setting the mood for the film. The music is fantastically scored while also being haunting and unnerving. It will definitely stick with you after seeing the film.
The combination of the visuals, cinematography, and score creates one disturbing film. A specific example would have to be the death scene of Olga (Elena Fokina), one of the dancers at the school. She is trapped within a room of mirrors, and her body is twisted and battered around like a ragdoll. She is contorted into painful-looking poses, accentuated by the sickening, unnerving sounds of bones breaking and crunching. This scene is juxtaposed with Susie practicing the dance of a protagonist in the company’s place. At the end of the scene, Olga is left as a ball of twisted, broken limbs. The violence in that scene alone makes the original film’s violence look tame in comparison.
However, Olga’s death scene has nothing on the last act of the film. The first three acts of the film were relatively straight forward, with some bizarre and rather disturbing scenes sprinkled in here or there. The last act, on the other hand is where everything goes completely off the rails. It features a twist that no one would see coming. To see it unfold is mesmerizing, leaving the audience confused, bewildered, and questioning what they just watched. Attempting to describe it would not do it justice when compared to seeing it with your own eyes.
As one can tell from this review, Suspiria is not a film meant for your average movie goer. Similar to films such as Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Alex Garland’s Annihilation, and Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, it is a film that requires a second or even third viewing to understand what one just watched. It is a hard film to process upon the first time viewing it.
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Unlike most horror remakes, Luca Guadagnino’s 'Suspiria' takes the premise of the original and creates its own identity with it. While the plot is thin, it is supported by fantastic performances, moody visuals, great cinematography and a haunting score. However, its disturbing violence and bizarre ending will ward off the casual movie goer. Still, it is quite an experience to watch.
Daniel is a Journalism major and a History minor. Daniel’s hobbies include playing video games, watching movies, writing short stories and fan fiction, and listening to music. He hopes to use his work at Byte as a stepping stone for his journalism career.