Movie review: Horror remake ‘Suspiria’ dances to a bonkers beat
After watching Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic, “Suspiria,” you might shake your head and wonder WTF you just saw. Don’t worry, you’re in good company. The movie — the director’s follow up to last year’s luscious, Oscar-nominated coming-of-age drama, “Call Me by Your Name” — is just plain bonkers. “Suspiria” is this year’s “mother!”, polarizing and definitely not for the squeamish.
“Suspiria” follows Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson), an aspiring dancer from a strict religious upbringing in Ohio. It’s a stormy night (Isn’t it always in these things?) when she arrives at Berlin’s Markos Dance Academy, which doubles as a secret witches’ lair. Dabbling in the dark arts are Tilda Swinton’s stern dance instructor, Madame Blanc, and her two sinister assistants played by veteran European actresses Sylvie Testud and Ingrid Caven.
As time progresses, Susie finds herself increasingly susceptible to supernatural forces. She dreams the nightmares of the other dancers and she sees dead people. I’m kidding. There is, however, an intense scene where Susie dances as if in a trance, contorting her body in all sorts of positions, while another dancer in a separate room involuntarily mimics her moves, all mangled limbs, crunchy joints and popping bones. You’re thinking “gross,” but you can’t look away. Eventually, all roads (and there are a lot of them) lead to Susie being set up to be their sacrificial virgin. Apparently these sorceresses have never seen Johnson in “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“Suspiria,” however, isn’t that simple. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich, who also wrote the director’s “A Bigger Splash,” (which starred Johnson and Swinton), have more important stuff on their minds: Politics, female empowerment, motherhood, religion, art. It’s too much. Guadagnino and Kajganich suffocate the movie with subplots and subtext that results in a 152-minute hodge-podge of provocative images (some sickening) yielding nothing more than a big yawn. The movie might have been a real scream if it wasn’t so self-indulgent and overwrought.
Don’t bother trying to figure it out. Do enjoy the cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who also shot “Call Me by Your Name.” Stylistically, Guadagnino’s vibrant use of color (Susie’s stark raven hair, the dancers stringy, blood-red costumes) and an unsettling, psychedelic score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke are standouts. Expect an Oscar nomination for his original song, “Suspirium.”
In a nice nod to the Argento’s film, Jessica Harper, who played “Suzy” in the original, has a small part here.
As always, Swinton is terrific. A true chameleon, she pulls triple duty, appearing not just as Blanc, but also under heavy old-age makeup as a male therapist (credited to the name “Lutz Ebersdorf”), and as the mysterious Mother Markos, an elderly Jabba the Hutt wannabe. By the time Markos’ identity is revealed during the climatic pagan ritual, everything has pretty much gone off the rails.
The cast is large, but Chloë Grace Moretz (“The Equalizer”) stands out as Patricia, a young dancer in the throes of a delusional breakdown after being haunted by the dark dealings at the academy. “They took my eyes,” she tells her therapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton), then disappears. Equally strong is Mia Goth (“A Cure for Wellness”) as Sara, Blanc’s favorite until Susie shows up. The girls become fast friends, maybe even lovers. Eventually Sara stirs up trouble. But watch out. They’ll get you, my pretty.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Mia Goth.
(R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references)