Review: Suspiria—Dance ’Till You’re Dead2 November 2018
Director Luca Guadagnino is back following his 2017 romance-smash Call Me By Your Name, and boy, are we a long way from sun-soaked Italy. Suspiria takes us to late 1970s Berlin, into the terrifying secrets at the heart of the Helena Markos Dance Company. Guadagnino’s remix of a remake departs in several places from the original Suspiria, directed in 1977 by Dario Argento, but casts a similarly powerful spell. A tense and beautifully told tale of lust for power unfurls, as Suzy, a wide-eyed American dancer, auditions for the prestigious Markos company and enchants the head choreographer Madame Blanc. While this set-up might resemble any number of fun dance-flicks, let me assure you, this is where the similarities end. The discerning matron-teachers at this company are more than strict —they’re downright evil.
This film is decidedly creepy, and well earns its MA+15-rating: seriously, I’d think twice before taking your 15-year-old sibling. There are some stomach-turning scenes of body horror and violence: a remarkable sequence of dance-come-torture is worth the price of your ticket, if you can stand to peek out from behind your hands. It’s not a jump-scare laden film, however—it’s much more in line with the unsettling and discomforting fare of films like Hereditary or Mother!. The camp-horror aesthetic of Suspiria is a sublime homage to ’70s horror, it’s colour palate recalling DePalma’s Carrie among other retro classics. Guadagnino’s expert use of ’70s-inspired zoom-into-close-up shots conjure the peculiar vibe of Argento, without allowing the film to become a fawning remake. Another major point of difference from the original is the character of psychiatrist Dr Josef Klemperer, whose patient Patricia has regaled him with her “delusions” of the witchcraft at work at the Markos company. When Patricia goes missing, Josef shuffles through the perpetually rainy Berlin streets often marred by the graffiti-laden Berlin Wall, to the labyrinthine hallways and mirrored studios of the Markos company to uncover the matrons’ secrets.
While the film’s shocks and sights are its drawing card, its cast manages not to be swallowed up by its strong aesthetics, and gives impressively nuanced performances. Dakota Johnson’s Suzy begins the film as the perfectly naïve, soft-voiced ingénue, but her time at Markos casts a dark enchantment over her. Johnson is no stranger to Guadagnino films, having starred in 2015’s A Bigger Splash with fellow Suspiria star Tilda Swinton, and her performance here proves just how wasted she was in the 50 Shades quagmire. Swinton, who plays three roles in the film, one of which is credited under a pseudonym, is as electric as always, as is the remainder of the overwhelmingly female cast. Mia Goth as the kindly Sara, a Markos student who becomes suspicious of just what the matrons want from Suzy, is particularly excellent.
The stunning contemporary dance choreography and scenes of creatively perverse horror alone would have been enough, but coupled with Thom Yorke of Radiohead’s haunting and melodic soundtrack, the film provides some truly spectacular cinematic moments. Yorke’s eerie underscoring mingles with the gasps, sighs, cackles and screams which proliferate the film, helping it to unsettle until the very last moment.
The film’s end is just as bat-shit crazy as you might expect, and comes some two-and-half hours after the film’s opening scene. But it’s strange how fast time passes while watching Suspiria—almost like magic.