“When You Dance The Dance Of Another, You Make Yourself In The Image Of Its Creator…”
Considered as one of the staple examples of horror cinema since its’ release in 1977, Dario Argento’s Suspiria continues to bewilder, bemuse and bewitch audiences both observing for the first time and avid returners still hooked in the enchanting spell cast by the Italian, with the iconic neon colour palette utilised for the film’s signature style and the extravagantly overblown score by Goblin the standout elements forty one years on. Whilst I can consider myself a stern admirer of the Argento classic, repeat viewings have failed to alter my opinion that even with all the outstanding elements within its’ genetic makeup, there also sits a few major ills, particularly in its’ longevity regarding certain special effects and awfully hammy acting, and whilst the thought of ever treading on such sacred ground for a remake, reboot or re-imagining seems fundamentally blasphemous, Suspiria circa 2018 is project which I have been gleefully looking forward to since the first whispers surfaced into the ears of cinema fans across the world. Directed by fellow Italian, Luca Guadagnino, (A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name) who refers to his latest project as a homage to the Argento original rather than a fully blown remake, Suspiria sees Dakota Johnson (Bad Times as the El Royale) as Susie Bannion, a seemingly repressed yet mysterious American dancer who travels into the heart of a war torn West Berlin in order to be admitted into the world renowned Markos Dance Academy and fall under the wing of Tilda Swinton’s (Doctor Strange) lead choreographer, Madame Blanc.
Taking place in 1977, the release year and setting of the original, Guadagnino’s interpretation follows Argento’s original screenplay only to particular extents, using familiar characters and settings only in name as the Italian reunites with A Bigger Splash screenwriter, David Kajganich, for a script which is determined to offer something completely radical as it plunges headfirst into an array of themes and mythological exploration, setting the tone for a remake which doesn’t care how much you may love the original as it seeks to present a subversive, differing tale of events which sits at the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum in terms of its’ filmic genetic makeup. Of the more obvious changes, Guadagnino completely strips the neon embers of the Argento version for a more traditional, classic horror movie aesthetic, choosing to gloss the film in a grim, grainy colour palette and incorporating familiar B-movie genre tropes including quickfire camera zooms, schizophrenic editing and detailed facial shots similar to the likes of Don’t Look Now and more crucially, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Whilst the original thrived on the central twist regarding the secretive coven of witches embedded within the heart of the school’s grounds, Kajganich’s script openly embraces such a fact from the outset, presenting the presence of evil as somewhat natural as we see Johnson’s Bannion quickly become the centre of a scheming plot to sacrifice her bewildering power to the unseen force of the school’s titular matriarchal figure, Helena Markos, and whilst the openness of such evil forces seemed a strange narrative choice heading into the movie, the decision does ultimately make absolute sense, saving an even bigger reveal for its’ own terrifying final act and understanding that most audiences heading in are original Suspiria fans anyway and therefore already well versed with the film’s central horror.
Synchronising deliciously with the purposeful intention to oppose pretty much everything within the original, Thom Yorke’s score beautifully and hauntingly glides hand in hand with the story, utilising a primarily piano led catalogue of tracks which matches the best work produced by Yorke both in a solo capacity and with Radiohead, with lead track, “Suspirium”, particularly impressive, encompassing the radical difference to the rather barmy but highly memorable Goblin score utilised in Argento’s film. At two and a half hours, the run-time does seem rather off-putting for some audiences who will undoubtedly find the slow burn nature of the pacing tortuously boring and irksome, but in a similar vein to Blade Runner 2049, the slower pace never felt much of an issue, building up dramatically to flashes of brutal, stylistic violence and a final act which when arrives feels particularly well earned. Among the many standout set pieces, the central dance sequences are incredibly well choreographed, with Guadagnino’s version emphasising the art of movement much more then the original ever did, and with added thematic notions regarding motherhood, the effect of war and a rather contemporary commentary on the abuse of power, Suspiria circa 2018 almost falls into the category of epic cinema, even when particular narrative arcs seem slightly tacked on to the extent that they either could have been shortened or removed completely. With Johnson and Swinton both absolutely superb in the central roles as they willingly buy into the vision created by a director they have both worked with in the past, Suspiria is a bold, beautiful and at times, genuinely unnerving work of art-house cinema which took the genetic code of a horror genre classic and redefined it from top to bottom.