Writer: David Kajganich
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz and 'Lutz Ebersdorf'
Review: Michael Dalton, Prime Minister
Fresh off the success of Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino is back with a remake of the cult-horror classic Suspiria. Set amidst the backdrop of a divided Berlin, it tells the story of a dance academy that’s a front for a coven.
Set in Berlin during the ‘German Autumn’ of 1977, Suspiria focuses on a young woman called Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who joins the prestigious Markos Dance Academy, which is run under the guidance of Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc. Prior to her arrival, a student called Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) has gone missing, but not before divulging to her psychiatrist Dr. Jozef Klemperer that the school is in fact a coven. As Susie finds herself ever more central to the school’s plans, the psychiatrist’s investigation leads him ever closer to the truth.
The word that’s been used most in relation to Suspiria is divisive. Not only has the reaction to the film proved polarizing but the film itself is about a divided Berlin, constantly framing its story against the backdrop of Red Army Faction violence. It’s clearly a film with a lot on its mind and Guadagnino ambitiously loads the film thematically, attempting to tell a story about generational guilt as well as a gory body horror about a bunch of witches.
While some will appreciate this attempt to deepen the source material, it was unsurprising to find out that it’s this element of the film that is missing from the original. These two plot strands of doctor and dancers don’t come together as naturally, or as satisfyingly, as they could. Too often in the film you might find yourself wondering, while intrigued, why the film is focusing so much on Dr. Klemperer at the expense of the growing tension within the walls of the school.
This is especially frustrating as when Guadagnino does turn his attention to the horror, it makes one hell of an impression. One scene in particular, some dance moves with a horrific twist, makes for one of the most disturbing sequences I’ve seen all year. However, that scene aside, the tension he builds is too frequently undercut and leads to a climax that is silly and overdrawn more than anything else. Nevertheless, credit must go to him for his versatility. Where Call Me By Your Name had a big, beating heart, oozing love and warmth in every frame, this is an icy cold experience that’s drenched in dread.
That being said, you can tell that this is a horror film from the director of Call Me By Your Name. The film attempts to end on a bittersweet, romantic note. Meanwhile, that aforementioned scene aside, its moments of horror seem more concerned with aesthetics than impact. The original score from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke plays into this feeling. While it is an evocative piece of work and some of the best film music of the year, it is more interested in creating a mood than in truly getting under your skin.
Where the film is most impressive in terms of craft is the make up. While credited as being played by Lutz Ebersdorf, it has since been revealed that the actor behind Dr. Klemperer is in fact Tilda Swinton. The way in which this has been achieved is simply stunning. While it could be distracting, and some would argue unnecessary, I soon forgot who it was and found myself utterly invested in the character. As Madame Blanc, Tilda Swinton is suitably creepy and domineering, hinting at deeper layers to what could otherwise have been a one-note performance. However, it is in her second, hidden role as Dr. Klemperer where the most affecting work of the film is done. Meanwhile, Dakota Johnson gives an intriguing, committed performance, yet too often feels like a lost protagonist.
Ultimately, despite its ambition and achievements, Suspiria is too long to be scary and too silly to be taken seriously. Guadagnino’s versatility is notable, but he might have been better served making either a film about post-war guilt or a film about dancing witches. As it goes, the two feel out of step and it results in an overly long film, blunting its impact.
Movie Parliament Rating: FRINGE PARTY
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,