Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Malgosia Bela, Chloe Grace Moretz, Angelina Winkler, Renee Soutendijk, Jessica Harper
R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references
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In horror history, there are a handful of films that can lay claim to being massively influential and a handful that elevated the medium to the level of art. Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece Suspiria was one of the latter. Going into the 2018 version of the film of the same name is fraught with peril. Can it compare? Should it compare? Knowing the intention behind the director’s vision is as important to that assessment of the film as is knowing the original.
Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s vision for the film was not to remake, but re-imagine it for a different audience. While the sequel is still set in an all-girls dance studio with a mysterious faculty, the visual similarities between the two films are diametrically opposed. Whereas Argento’s film is awash in bright, vivid colors, especially reds, Guadagnino’s version avoids primary colors, instead focusing on the drear whites, grays, and blacks of a bleak German winter. While Argento’s film focused almost entirely on the young girl (Jessica Harper) at the center of the story, Gudagnino’s project expands beyond the girl’s (Dakota Johnson) adventures.
Both films feature unique and compelling musical scores with hints of the original Goblin score infusing composer Thom Yorke’s current rendition. Each is also exceptionally violent with Guadaginon’s rendition upping the gore quantity beyond expectations and not without warrant.
The most horrifying of scenes is one early in the film where one of the dancers decides she’s going to leave the school, but while she’s trying to escape, Johnson is performing a dance for the teachers. Each move causes the fleeing girl physical harm. The prolonged scene is visceral and disturbing, but its haunting nature defines rather than diverts the film.
Suspiria is just as haunting in its new incarnation as it was in the original and both films can exist independently of one another. The new version wants to be a bit headier in its narrative development, tackling motherhood, self-recrimination, and a number of other minor themes. It also expands the exploration of character to others, giving meaty roles to a number of prominent actresses, all of whom are an international bevy of talents.
Johnson’s character, Susie Bannion, doesn’t have a lot of emotional growth. She reacts to everything going on around her with a sort of emotional detachment. Her visceral reactions are instead foisted on the young women around her, including a superb Mia Goth as her best friend at the school. Tilda Swinton delivers another characteristically brilliant performance as both the imperious teacher at the center of Susie’s growth as well as the father figure Dr. Klemperer, the psychologist trying to get to the bottom of the activities within the school.
Suspiria is one of those films that divides viewers evenly among camps that either believe it’s a corrosive, vile waste of celluloid or insist that it has a supreme amount of artistic merit, exploring the powerful way in which cinema can frighten, disgust, and terrify the audience.
Which group you fall into may depend on how you feel about gore-based horror films rather than whether or not you’re a fan of the Argento original. It is a visceral panoply of scenes and situations that drag the audience through the horrifying realm of demon worship and the intense gauntlet through which all mothers go in bringing life into the world.
February 27, 2019