Evocative Revival

To some, remaking Dario Argento’s rich, evocative masterpiece Suspiria is nothing short of sacrilegious. Inspired by Thomas De Quincy’s essay Suspiria de Profundis, this primary-coloured 1977 work is oft-cited as one of the seminal examples of giallo horror. But if you’re going to tackle it, then refashioning it as a two-and-a-half hour arthouse tale of dance, depravity and dourness is about as brave as it gets.

Behind the camera is Argento’s fellow countryman, the Italian-born Luca Guadagnino, who was last seen making the sun-kissed all-male romance Call Me By Your Name. The sun is very much absent here, in a rain-drenched Berlin in 1977, when the buildings were all monolithic and grey and about the only bright colour comes with Tilda Swinton’s outlandish costumes.

Keeping faithful to the basic premise of Argento’s original, Dakota Johnson plays Susie Bannion, a newcomer to a dance academy run by Swinton’s Madame Blanc, who we soon discover is part of a coven of witches. Johnson, who featured in Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash, has never been better as the innocent lured into hell, who wins her place in the troupe due to a missing student (played, almost unrecognisably, by Chloë Grace Moretz).

Running at approximately an hour more than Argento’s movie, the remake features a number of digressions, notably the investigations of aged psychoanalyst, Dr. Josef Klemperer. Played by one Lutz Ebersdorf, according to the credits, ‘he’ is actually Swinton, under heavy prosthetics and speaking lines in flawless German. She also appears in another disguised role, though that can remain a secret for those who fancy playing ‘spot the Swinton’. There’s also a cameo for Argento’s original leading lady, Jessica Harper.

Scored by sombre but elegant music by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, marking his first foray into soundtracks, Guadagnino masterfully conjures an atmosphere of dread. One scene, set in a mirrored dance room, is full-on body horror, but this Suspiria is less about scares and more about psychological meltdown. The recreation of Berlin before the Wall came down is hugely evocative and contributes greatly to this absorbing (albeit sometimes self-absorbed) work. Purists may dismiss it, but Guadagnino has created a unique film.

Suspiria is now in cinemas. For more details, click here. 

James Mottram

Credits:
1. Still from Suspiria, 1977.
2. Still from Suspiria, 2018.
3. Still from Suspiria, 2018.