Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) attends an exclusive modern dance school in 1977. She soon learns that there is something sinister at work in this school and that she is being prepared by the head of the school (Tilda Swinton) to be more than just a great dancer.
Luca Guadagnino stressed that his film is inspired by Dario Argento’s cult classic, and is not a remake. The film borrows the premise of a dance school that’s really a coven of Witches and does something very different with it. Argento’s film operated very much as a slasher with a witchy motive. Here, witchcraft and its power and the attitude towards it is the absolute focus of the film. It is a film about female power and its use. In its final moments, it completely subverts the original film’s premise in an inventive and entertaining way.
The affection Guadagnino has for the original film is evident in all the little references. It is still, most certainly, a horror film. There are some truly grisly moments and long suspenseful scenes. The threat of bodily and mental intrusion is effectively horrible. There’s a drawn-out scene of metaphysical torture in which a woman is made to dance nearly to death that is wonderfully gruesome.
The most mesmerizing aspects of a film absolutely filled with mesmerizing imagery are the dance and dream sequences. Dance was never really a focus of the original film, Guadagnino makes it the key expression of the women’s power. The dances are intense and bizarre. There’s a huge power to the choreography. In the nightmarish dream sequences, we are shown beautifully shot surreal images that disturb and provoke.
The film is set in Berlin of the 1970s and the setting is an important aspect of the story. The Baader Meinhof group, the legacy of the Holocaust and renewed interest of artists occupy the scenes and characters. There’s a beautiful narrative involving an aging doctor (Also Tilda Swinton) living with the disappearance of his wife during the war. He is haunted by the women he could not save.
The performances of the film are fabulous. Dakota Johnson is excellent as the shy farm girl with terrifying ability. Tilda Swinton is wonderful in both of her roles, bringing tender authority to Madame Blanc and doddering charm to Dr. Jozef Klemperer. Mia Goth and Chloe Grace Moretz are both convincing and affecting as young scared students of the macabre school.
The only aspect that passed me by was Thom York’s soundtrack. It’s understandably a more nuanced approach than Goblin, but it was also fairly unmemorable. This may well hold up better on repeat viewings.
Suspiria is a gorgeous and grotesque masterpiece of horror. It’s gorier and more subtly menacing than its predecessor but also a thoughtful expansion of its core ideas and themes. It’s a fascinating watch that I cannot wait to experience again.