The mere thought of remaking Dario Argento's magnum opus, 1977's Suspiria,sounds almost blasphemous, but Luca Guadagnino's film of the same name is a rebirth of an icon, and will surely live on as a contemporary classic in its own right.
In 1977 West Berlin, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), an American from an Ohio Mennonite family, is admitted at the world-renowned Markos Dance Academy. The dancers and staff are in disarray after the mysterious disappearance of a student (Chloe Grace-Moretz), who vanished after confessing to her therapist that the academy is controlled by a coven of witches who worship goddesses that predate Christianity — The Three Mothers: Mater Lachrymarum, Mater Tenebrarum and Mater Suspiriorum.
Argento's film is iconic, due in large part to the hyper-stylized technicolor set pieces and lighting design, and an equally remarkable score by Goblin. But Guadagnino's approach is radically different. He sincerely tells a more coherent story than the original. It's difficult to say whether or not Guadagnino's Suspiria is "better," than Argento's, but it is an astonishing addition to the arthouse horror canon, and serves as a total assault to the senses.
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's cinematography is stunning, but some moments are downright brutal and traumatic. Guadagnino removes any ambiguity of the presence of a witch coven the way Argento had done before, and this allows for stylish, quick-cut "nightmare" sequences littered with unsettling imagery that are difficult to shake off when the film transitions into the following scene.
Argento's Suspiria was centered on ballerinas, while Guadagnino's dancers perform what is called "modern dance." Pointed toes are lost in favor of flexed feet. Grace and balance are demolished, replaced by feral and disjointed movements. Precision of beauty has been replaced by intensity. Just as Guadagnino deconstructed and replaced Argento's career-defining thematic style, changing the dancers' chosen medium completely shifts the tone of the film. We are less entranced by the beauty of the dance company and instead anxiously await how each seemingly feral dance movement will impact the coven.
Dakota Johnson's "Susie," Mia Goth's "Sara," and Tilda Swinton's triple roles as "Madame Blanc," "Josef" and "Mother Markos" are a masterclass in performance, but every single character, no matter how little screen time they receive, is captivating. The dance company is electric to watch, always unsure of whether or not they're aware of the darkness surrounding them, or if they are aware but simply do not care in favor of dancing with the best company this side of the Berlin Wall.
Suspiria is horrifying in the sense that it will invade your psyche, take up residence and refuse to leave, but the entire film is completely devoid of jump scares. Guadagnino isn't trying to scare you; he's presenting to you the horrors of the world, namely those that impact women, as personified by gruesome fantasies and a certifiable climax that redefines danse macabre.