Luca Guadagnino's excellent remake of Suspiria takes one of Dario Argento's arguable masterpieces to entirely different places within the framework of the maestro's original intentions. With a stately pace of two-and-a-half hours, this isn't the movie for those looking for a slam-bang remake, though it does include the requisite hallmarks such viewers would expect, namely a bunch of amped-up CGI and excellent prosthetic gore, most of which occurs in the movie's final act. For viewers ready for a challenging art-piece, one as singular as, though entirely different from the first, Suspiria represents another in the new crop of head-trip horror movies (like Mandy) in which dread and confusion are as important as thrills and chills.
An American dancer, Susie (Dakota Johnson, Melanie Griffith's daughter) aspires to be a member of the prestigious German Helena Markos Dance Company in 1977 Berlin. It's a daunting proposition necessitating full commitment (the dancers are even provided room and board, so as to rarely leave the troupe's confines). But as the film opens, we find ex-member Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) losing her mind as she runs from from the company, convinced it's being run by a coven of witches. (Which, aside from severe stylization, is as far as the similarities with Argento's work go.) Meanwhile, Susie's willingness to commit wholly to the dances captures the intense interest of one of the company's leaders, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). As Susie travels deeper into the belly of the company, her friend Sara (Mia Goth) begins to suspect something is not right, enlisting the aid of Dr. Klemperer, (also Swinton) the psychiatrist who tried to help former member Patricia.
If you're ready then to invest some time and attention, you'll be rewarded by a slow burn with just a few missteps. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's cinematography keeps things gliding along darkly, echoing the thematically grim, gray atmosphere of Berlin at the time. Gathering spaces and rehearsals are warm and lively, while much else is drenched in shadows, filled with mirrors, and otherwise echoing a sense of dark duality. Meanwhile, editor Walter Fasano imbues scenes of stealth and mystery with tension, while creating his own choreography to match the dances.
Swinton continues her gender-and-genre-bending ways, matching Klemperer's dogged pursuit with both longing and frailty, while Blanc's stern demeanor hides motherly warmth. Johnson ably provides a template on which her desires and those of the witches carry equal significance. There isn't a weak performance to be found. However, some of the air of mystery built in the first 30 minutes is diffused as the true nature of the Dance Company is revealed, making the horror (if not the exact nature thereof) seem a fait accompli. Further, attempts to tie-in to 1977 contemporary events, such as the doings of the Baader-Meinhoff gang, while underscoring themes of duality (reality versus the insular troupe), don't lead to much. Nonetheless, the use of modern dance as a thematic element is fantastic, both in the fact that the performances themselves are gorgeous and invigorating, and that the stylized movements underscore and support (sometimes literally) the splendid orgy of violence and voyeurism that (especially) caps the movie.
Luca Guadagnino's solemn yet splashy remake of the Dario Argento classic Suspiria takes the maestro's central conceit to very different places. If you're looking for a slavish update, you'll be disappointed, but if your eyes and ears are open to a slow burn full of top-notch performances, with an atmosphere of dread, and a blood-drenched Grand Guignol climax, you may find much to enjoy. It's not a perfect film, with a few missteps along the way, and this lush-looking Blu-ray is light on the extras, so it ultimately might be wise to Rent It before you decide to buy.