A lengthy affair it may be, but this re-envisioning of Argento’s cult horror classic works on its own nightmarish terms in what is also a strong stylistic and technical exercise.
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
2018 | Italy/USA | Drama/Horror/Mystery | 152 mins | 1.85:1 | English, German & French
R21 (passed clean) for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Mia Goth
Plot: A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist.
Awards: Won Best Special Effects – Costume Design & Best Original Song; Nom. for Golden Lion & Queer Lion (Venice)
International Sales: FilmNation
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Mature/Disturbing
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore Film Society screening)
One could say that Suspiria is Luca Guadagnino’s first true genre picture, a psychological horror re-envisioning of Dario Argento’s 1977 ‘giallo’ cult classic.
After a series of intriguing films such as the underrated I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015), and culminating in his best-known work to date Call Me by Your Name (2017), the Italian director’s latest foray furthers his reputation as a visual stylist and a purveyor of atmosphere.
Gone is the sweet, natural innocence of Call Me by Your Name, or the rich sumptuousness of I Am Love, and in comes a dark, surreal and unsettling work that plays with its horror elements to great effect.
Set in the 1970s, and feeling like a spiritual cousin to films like Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), and with a touch of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) to boot, Suspiria mostly occurs within the interior of a building housing a dance company.
Dakota Johnson is very watchable as Susie, a young American who comes to Germany to join the troupe, led by an all-female team of veteran dance experts and administrators (or so you think…) who prepare daily exercises and routines for everyone to master in order to mount an upcoming public performance.
“Dance everyone, dance. It’s so beautiful.”
Told in numerous acts, Suspiria slowly gathers momentum as several subplots come together (including one about an old psychotherapist who is still mourning over his late wife who died in the war), though not always meaningfully, to create a canvas that appears to be more expansive than the original.
It is a lengthy affair at 150-odd minutes, but Guadagnino’s film manages to sustain by developing an interior world (both physically as marked by the building in question, and psychologically as characterised by the film’s obtrusive use of editing and cinematographic tricks to mimic derangement and psychosis) that if you allow, will suck you into it.
Suspiria works on its own nightmarish terms, and while it is certainly a strong stylistic and technical exercise, its most potent parts involve some suspension of belief, and this is where Guadagnino’s film is most striking—where that balance between physical reality and the reality of the mind merge.
The climactic sequence is a tour de force, and worth the admission ticket alone. But it is the journey there that counts most in this daring and competently-crafted shocker.