- Suspiria (2018)
The Italian director follows in the footsteps of his master Dario Argento, presenting us with a spin on the classic that asks the viewer to agree to a set of brand-new terms.
Luca Guadagnino moves the story from Munich to Berlin and gives a gentle nod to the original film’s release date by setting it in 1977, in the midst of the German Autumn. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in Germany from her native Ohio, driven by her unfathomable connection to the city. Pursuing the calling that grew louder within her since her early years, she strives to secure a spot in a prestigious Markos Dance Academy. Rumour has it that Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is a tough character, but the dancer charms the head teacher immediately and gets an admission offer on the spot. Ambition drives her even further: she volunteers for the lead part in the routine that the troupe are preparing. Breaking through her teacher’s apprehension, the girl aces her first dance without any preparation. The showdown ultimately secures her place in the ensemble.
But her rapidly emerging talent isn’t the only topic of animated discussions among the students. Bonding over introductions, Susie befriends Sara (Mia Goth), an easy-going, enthusiastic dancer and “a good ambassador for the school.” One strand of chatter after another, the newcomer learns that an exceptional student Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) ran away with a radical terrorist group. Before the top dancer vanished, she attended therapy sessions with Dr Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton under the heavy prosthetics playing Lutz Ebersdorf), leaving him a diary full of notes with exhaustive descriptions of her “delusions”. Absorbed by her psychotic visions, the concerned psychoanalyst decides to investigate her disappearance, driven by the guilt etched deeply in his past.
Rather than copy the classic’s aesthetic, the director dissects it to compose something extremely different. Yet, Guadagnino’s Suspiria springs from the heart of Argento’s film, transforming it into a muted-down, affectionate, and sometimes darkly funny tribute that simply takes a different route, instead of a remake that tailgates the original concept all along. If you expect Argento’s intense colour palette composed of electric blues and visceral reds, you’re in for a disappointment. But subscribe to the terms of the remake, and the washed-out, austere palette starts to suit the setting of the 70s Berlin and the redefined story.
The sense of time and place is chiselled further in Guadagnino’s version, laying the foundations for new character arcs. The wartime still echoes in the personal stories, while the current affairs soak the plot as it unfolds. According to the teachers, Patricia is a Red Army Faction sympathiser, which helps her teachers to cover up her escape – she’s not worth searching for unless one’s looking for trouble. But her psychoanalyst interrogates every trail she left behind, pushed by the force of his painful memories. At the bottom of this stream of history, a love affair lays buried. When it awakes, it rubs salt into the wounds, coming down with a crash in the final act.
Experimenting with dance sequences a little more than its predecessor, the new rendition uses the choreography to escalate the tension, backing it up by nightmarish medleys of gore that flash rapidly in front of our eyes. Brief intertwined shots of three characters thump to a rhythm without using any music when the director introduces us to the authority imbalance that makes dancing so competitive in Markos. One dancer rises to the top with her movements, the other is gradually disfigured, while their teacher links the two. The Pandora’s box opens; the current of powers fluctuates within the narrative, blotting the pureness with the intrinsic human inclination to toy with the evil.
Even die-hard fans of Argento’s Suspiria should find something for themselves in this reimagination, be it a fresh spin on the original or the in-depth analysis of the source material that gave birth to its new version. Guadagnino never aims to outdo the classic, making it clear that he’s still under its spell instead.
Suspiria opens as a part of the London Film Festival. The film will be released in the UK on the 16th of October 2018.