Directed by: Luca Guadagnino | 152 minutes | fantasy, horror | Actors: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick, Malgorzata Bela, Chloë Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Vanda Capriolo, Alek Wek, Jessica Batut, Elena Fokina, Mia Goth, Clémentine Houdart, Ingrid Caven, Sylvie Testud, Fabrizia Sacchi, Brigitte Cuvelier , Renée Soutendijk
“I didn’t want to make a simple remake, but to pay tribute to the feeling I experienced myself when I saw the original.” Of everything you expected after ‘Call Me by Your Name’ by Luca Guadagnino, a remake of ‘Suspiria’ was probably the last. Quite risky too, to get started with the premise of an undisputed horror classic. But, as Guadagnino himself points out, the film is much more an expression of a feeling than a direct remake. It sums up the new ‘Suspiria’ more than fine in that respect. Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ can best be described as a chilling rampage that prefers atmosphere over plot.
The remake of ‘Suspiria’ basically follows the plot of the original. Young dancer Susie (Dakota Johnson) registers at a prestigious ballet school in Berlin. She soon discovers, however, that the school, headed by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), is actually a breeding ground for a terrifying cult of witches. One of the dancers (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) seems to have escaped and seeks refuge with psychiatrist Josef Klemperer (“Lutz Ebersdorf”), who becomes fascinated by her story and sets out to investigate. All this against the background of a strongly divided and attack-ravaged Germany in 1977 (not coincidentally the year in which the original ‘Suspiria’ was released).
‘Suspiria’ is not a film that will find much appeal among the general public: the film is probably too surreal and inaccessible for that. Fans of the original will no doubt also be skeptical about the film, but don’t despair: Guadagnino’s remake is not much inferior to the original and is perhaps even more chilling. The setting is rough and grim: as a viewer you sometimes get the feeling of being taken over by the witches; both in dark, dirty cellars and in broad daylight in an ashen Berlin. Expectations for a clearly defined plot are best left at home. Expect overwhelming images from ‘Suspiria’, an almost continuously playing up stomach ulcer and a finale that stretches everything decent to an insane frenzy. But the scene that will demand the most from the viewer comes halfway through, in which the concept of torture is given a new dimension. Then try to watch a dance performance without any worries.
Although the characters are also subordinate to the atmosphere, especially Johnson can finally show that she is an excellent actress at the core, and has squandered all her talent in recent years in the abominable ‘Fifty Shades’ films. Her Susie develops from a young, apparently innocent flower to a fascinating and sometimes even frightening appearance. Johnson’s somewhat distant acting contributes to this. Swinton knows how to make a fascinating character study of each role with her natural presence, and in ‘Suspiria’ turns out to be even more versatile than we thought. And then there are highly remarkable supporting roles by Angela Winkler and Renée Soutendijk, among others.
And yet there are times when something is wrong: the atmospheric (and cold) setting also hides a lack of plot and emotional development. The characters remain distant enigmas: by nature the viewer’s sympathy should lie with Susie, but the inaccessible nature of the film and her characters sometimes gets in the way of sympathy here. Moreover, towards the end, Guadagnino just doesn’t manage to keep pace enough, which sometimes makes the film feel like a somewhat pretentious exercise.
However, it should not spoil the fun. Fans of surrealistic and stylish horror will undoubtedly enjoy ‘Suspiria’. Whether Guadagnino’s version can transcend his greatest film fascination is for the avid ‘Suspiria’ fans to judge for themselves. There is no doubt that the Italian is once again proving himself to be one of the most intriguing directors of the moment. As a blistering journey through hell, ‘Suspiria’ is a (remarkable) worthy addition to his already rich oeuvre.