Suspiria casts a bewitching and gory spell

Don't hate us for believing this remake of Dario Argento's horror classic is superior to the original.

Suspiria

4.5 out of 5 stars.

R

152 minutes

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Angela Winkler, Chloë Grace Moretz, Mia Goth, Elena Fokina and Jessica Harper

Now playing.

click to enlarge Ballet becomes a physical metaphor for the summoning of witch-y powers in director Luca Guadagnino's breathtaking Suspiria. - Amazon Studios/Alessio Bolzoni
Amazon Studios/Alessio Bolzoni
Ballet becomes a physical metaphor for the summoning of witch-y powers in director Luca Guadagnino's breathtaking Suspiria.

Dario Argento’s Suspiria, released in 1977, is widely considered his magnum opus.

But, if we’re being honest, it’s not really a very good movie.

I would agree that, on at least three points, it deserves acclaim and praise: The set design is breathtaking, the amazing kaleidoscope of colors that fill and saturate every frame has rarely been duplicated, and its main theme by Goblin is arguably one of the five most recognizable scores in horror history.

Otherwise, Argento’s Suspiria is all style with little substance. It’s beautiful to look at, but it lacks a compelling or coherent narrative. The central plot isn’t revealed until the third act. The main character lacks a purpose for existing in the film. And the villainous coven of witches is easily beaten and killed.

In short, this is one horror movie that was ripe for a revision, which is why director Luca Guadagnino’s remake is such an unexpected marvel. It’s an instant classic and should immediately join Hereditary, Get Out and mother! as a founding buttress for the long-overdue resurgence of intelligent, challenging and genuinely unnerving horror tales finding proper appreciation at the multiplex.

Make no mistake, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is not your typical horror movie. There’s a lot to unpack within the film, from gender politics to his interspersing of turbulent German history, but don’t despair, there are still gallons of blood waiting to be spilled, dozens of bones destined to be snapped and so many exploding heads that I honestly lost count because I was so giddy at the grand guignol filling the screen.

The film also serves as a coming-out party for Dakota Johnson, who stars as Susie Bannion, one of several characters to make the leap from original to remake — she's an American ballet dancer who travels to Berlin to join the prestigious Markos Dance Academy.

And it provides further proof that Tilda Swinton is both a supernatural being and one of the greatest actresses working today. Swinton plays Madame Blanc, the academy’s principal and lead choreographer. She also plays a male German psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer, and a third, unrecognizable role that’s best left to be discovered. 

click to enlarge Tilda Swinton might just be a real witch. How else to explain how she so effortlessly transforms into three different characters, both male and female, including Madame Blanc (pictured). - Amazon Studios/Alessio Bolzoni
Amazon Studios/Alessio Bolzoni
Tilda Swinton might just be a real witch. How else to explain how she so effortlessly transforms into three different characters, both male and female, including Madame Blanc (pictured).

Guadagnino’s Suspiria takes every loose end and unanswered subplot from Argento’s original, and creates a vibrant tapestry of interwoven stories that actually explains what the fuck is happening onscreen.

A large heap of praise goes to screenwriter David Kajganich who, based on this screenplay, already has us salivating for his approach to the upcoming Pet Sematary redo in 2019.

Kajganich’s script gives Bannion a purpose, which the character lacked in the original, and focuses heavily on dance, turning interpretative ballet into a physical incantation of sorts.

And then there are the deaths.

The original Suspiria featured one standout death, where a minor character was viciously and repeatedly stabbed before being thrown through a stained-glass ceiling panel and hanged.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria takes its time getting to the wet stuff, but the first death scene is a phenomenal achievement in queasy practical effects and brutal body contortion, making remarkable use of a small room encased in mirrors, which only heightens the disbelief of what you’re watching. Just wait for the third act, however. Rarely has a mainstream movie leaped into the deep end of gore so confidently or with such precision.

This will likely be a divisive cinematic experience for many. Those that worship at the altar of Argento may dismiss Guadagnino’s approach, but make no mistake — Suspiria has long been hailed as a masterpiece, but for the first time in 41 years, such critical accolades finally feel earned and rightly due.

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.

About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
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