The 2-minute review: Suspiria is horror as high art 2
This 2018 version takes the bare bones of the original and drills down on every aspect of it. Photograph from IMDB
Culture

The 2-minute review: Suspiria is horror as high art

But make no mistake: Suspiria is creepy and gory when it needs to be, and effectively so.
Andrew Paredes | Nov 02 2018

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Grace Moretz

Let me get the public service out of the way. If you’re a fan of jump scares in horror movies, skip Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino’s radical reimagining of the 1977 Dario Argento cult classic. If you like a sense of order—or maybe even a sense of sense—imposed on horror movies, skip Suspiria. If you like your horror straight without a chaser of art house pretense (not pretension, that’s a different word), skip Suspiria. You have been warned.

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American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) flies into Berlin from Ohio to enroll in a prestigious dance academy.

Everybody else who likes to unpack what a film is trying to say, who likes to savor layers and layers of meaning baked into a narrative, will have a feast with this version of Suspiria as told by, of all people, the director of Call Me by Your Name. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich take the bare bones of Argento’s original plot—an American named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) flies into Berlin from Ohio to enroll in the prestigious Markos dance academy, only to discover that it is actually a coven of witches grooming her for some nefarious occult ends—and drills down on nearly every aspect of it. (I suspect it is because of this that Guadagnino’s version runs a full hour longer than its precursor.) First, they give Susie a backstory of growing up in a Mennonite farm in Ohio, and insinuate that her history of growing up repressed and abused is exactly why she is what the coven needs at this point in their shadowy existence. Second, they situate the narrative squarely in the turbulent events of 1977 (propitiously, also the year the original was released) in Berlin, when the Baader-Meinhof group—also known as the Red Army Faction—was perpetrating acts of terrorism against what they perceived as Nazism’s lingering influence in German society; this choice effectively paints the academy as a haven of creative birth in the midst of so much male destruction and hubris. And third, Guadagnino digs deep into the feminine (not feminist, that’s another word) implications of creation; not just its comforting and comfortable connotations, but deeper—down into those subterranean depths where it can get messy, chaotic, and often bloody.

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This year's version has Susie (Johnson, here with Swinton) gets a backstory of growing up in a Mennonite farm in Ohio.
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Moretz plays Patricia Hingle who goes missing from the academy.

Suspiria 2018 is horror as high art. And, yes, it can veer into eye-rolling stereotypes of so-called high art, as when the inimitable Tilda Swinton, playing the academy’s chief instructress Madame Blanc, tells Susie, “When you jump, it’s not the height that matters but the space beneath you.” But Guadagnino posits that art is not always the lofty, rarefied vocation it is made out to be. Thom Yorke’s thrumming score and Damien Jalet’s percussive choreography—all scissor-like limbs and bone-rattling thumps onto wooden floors—tap into the dangerous power of creation. And for added measure, we have Tilda Swinton, playing three characters with conviction, a testament to the mysterious alchemy that exists in creativity.

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Swinton, the academy’s chief instructress Madame Blanc, tells Bannion: “When you jump, it’s not the height that matters but the space beneath you.”

Make no mistake: Suspiria is creepy and gory when it needs to be, and effectively so. Thirty minutes in, Susie auditions as the protagonist in a piece to replace Olga (Elena Fokina), a disgruntled dancer who leaves in a huff, and as the newcomer goes through her paces, the disgraced former lead is simultaneously thrown about like a rag doll in another studio, her ribs bulging and cracking, her limbs impossibly contorted, her body a crumpled mass of saliva, blood, and urine. And if you make it past that scene, Guadagnino unleashes all manner of blood and gore in his climax, probably the one true instance when his version is most faithful to its source. Suspiria won’t wait for you to catch up, but it has enough hooks to keep you curious. It is gruesome, yet gorgeous in its gruesomeness.