Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swindon, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz
Horror reboots are a dime-a-dozen these days. But this is less a reboot of the pulpy Argento classic and more of a reinterpretation and reanalysis of potential themes that Argento decided not to tackle. Where 2018’s Suspiria sacrifices the original’s vibrant color palette and stylistic giallo tropes, it compensates with an absolute feeling of dread and visuals reminiscent of a nightmare. I watched this film for the second time tonight. Six-acts-and-an-epilogue later, I was reassured of what I already suspected, that it’s 2018’s best horror film.
It shares the same basic blueprints of the 1977 film’s script, but builds upon it with new subplots, a more intriguing Susie Bannion, and exuberant performances from an ensemble of women. The new Susie Bannion is Dakota Johnson, who trained in dance for two years to prep for this role. The dance academy (or rather coven) is run by Madame Blanc, played with reservation and withheld secrets by Tilda Swinton. We are given Susie’s full story, paralleled with that of the coven’s council in deciding Susie’s fate, as well as the power struggle between that of Blanc and a mysterious figure known as Mother Markos. Also, an escaped student played by Chloe Grace Moretz comes to the mercy of a psychoanalyst (also played by Swinton in a bizarre casting decision). We are essentially given three stories in this horror epic, and they mostly flow together seamlessly. Not every shot is truly coherent or necessary, we feel as though director Luca Guadagnino tries too hard at times to create an air of mysteriousness. And certain scenes intertwine these stories in unnecessary ways, that create some moments of confusion. Despite this, judging the film as a whole, these flaws are easy to overlook.
As if trying to call back to the B-movie quality of the original, there’s a great deal of quick zooms and handheld camera, which is wonderfully nostalgic and doesn’t detract from the sheer artistry of Suspiria. Most of the final act, however, involves slower zooms and static camera, a wise choice to highlight the spiritual seriousness of the finale. As previously stated, much of the original color scheme has been sucked out, but when a bloody red appears, whether in the form of an outfit, hellish revelations, or at the sight of crimson blood, it pops to the forefront, demanding to be seen.
This is not a film for pure entertainment, but for the experience. It’s less something you watch and more something that happens to you. As Susie traverses through this world of dance and witchcraft, we see bits of her past and the sufferings of others as she climbs the hierarchy of the academy, and none of this is particularly pleasant. These are not the idiotic characters you see in slasher films, but victims of something greater. Even though for film’s majority you can’t quite place what the “greater” thing is, the film’s climax uncovers all answers and rewards the attention of its audience.
As stated, this interpretation allows more room for more thematic content. There’s the grand juxtaposition of beauteous art to that of disturbing suffering, notions of regret regarding lost love and paternal relationships, and the questions of power and its distribution, in both the political and the spiritual. Some of the political aspects, despite their relevancy to Berlin in 1977, does feel crammed into the film. But the rest creates an mostly even flow despite this, a carefully-placed house of cards that is not to be meddled with, and thankfully does not topple as a result of rather forced ideas. Its ending raises curious notions of not only the idea of evil, but the comparison between an unrelenting and a more merciful evil.
Some critics and audiences have absolutely despised this film, some even dubbing it as the mother! of this year. It has been written off as pretentious drivel. This reviewer, however, sees a director working at the peak of his talent, seeing his passion for its predecessor and all its potential in every glimmer of what he’s helmed. And it’s a prime example of a film that can be open to analysis, multiple viewings, and even potential sequels, while still standing, if not thriving, on its own.