Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Suspiria

Back in 1978, Italian horror director Dario Argento released Suspiria,  a supernatural horror film that followed Susie Bannion, an American  ballet student who transfers to Germany to study at a prestigious dance  academy. However, after a series of brutal murders, she soon discovers  that the academy is a haven for a coven of witches. Critics and  audiences alike proclaimed the film as Argento’s best work. Particular  praise went to its haunting, ominous atmosphere, its use of vibrant,  saturated colors to enhance said atmosphere, and its memorable,  enchanting soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin. For  years, the idea of a remake lingered around, with David Gordon Green  rumored to direct. However, Italian director Luca Guadagnino (director  of the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name) finally got  the project off the ground. Rather than being a remake in the  traditional sense, Guadagnino claims that the film is more of an homage  to the feelings he had while watching the original film for the first  time. And what he delivers is one hell of an experience.

Thin plot supported by great performances

Image from IMDb

The film follows the basic outline of the original: American ballet  student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) attends the Markos Dance Academy,  headed by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) in West Germany  in 1977. However, she soon begins investigating the school and the  disappearance of a student named Patrica (Chloe Grace Moretz). Joining  her in this investigation are fellow student Sara (Mia Goth) and  psychologist Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton in drag and heavy  make-up). And they soon discover that the school has a dark secret to  it.

Like with the original film, the plot of the movie matters very  little here. An odd bit in the film is that it will occasionally show  news reports about the crimes of Baader-Meinhof Gang, such as the  hijacking of the Landshut plane. These moments honestly add nothing to  the movie, other than to remind the audience about the setting of the  film. The only real way that this has any bearing on the plot is that it  is mentioned that Patricia may be involved with the group, but this is  quickly dropped.

While the plot may be lacking, the performances of the lead actors  are excellent. Dakota Johnson gives a great performance as Susie, who,  while being quiet throughout most of the film, becomes creepy and  unnerving towards the end. However, the real standout among the actors  is Tilda Swinton in her dual roles of Madame Blanc and Dr. Josef  Klemperer. Blanc feels like a role that Swinton would usually play, but  Klemperer is a completely different story. This role is unlike any that  Swinton has done before, and she is completely transformed. You would be  forgiven for not realizing it is her under all of that make-up.

Disturbing visuals, fantastic cinematography and a haunting score

Image from IMDb

Much like the original film, what the film lacks in plot it makes up  for in visuals and style. The film structures itself like a play, with  an opening title card saying that it has seven acts and an epilogue.   While the original film was known for its vibrant color palette, this  film takes an opposite approach. It is filmed in dark colors, especially  earthy browns, that give the film a sinister, foreboding quality to it.  The use of these colors accomplishes the same goal that the original’s  vibrant colors did: to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Compounding  these visuals is the cinematography. The film is well-shot, and it does  some interesting things such as circle around a table where a group of  characters are meeting or suddenly zoom in on a character’s face. There  are a lot of close up shots in the film, which gives the viewer a  feeling of discomfort and unease.

One of the highlights of the film would have to be its score. It was  conducted by Thom Yorke, best known as the lead singer of Radiohead.  There is a song that appears in both the opening and closing of the film  that bears a resemblance to a Radiohead song. This would feel out of  place, but it does a great job of setting the mood for the film. The  music is fantastically scored while also being haunting and unnerving.  It will definitely stick with you after seeing the film.

Image from IMDb

The combination of the visuals, cinematography, and score creates one  disturbing film. A specific example would have to be the death scene of  Olga (Elena Fokina), one of the dancers at the school. She is trapped  within a room of mirrors, and her body is twisted and battered around  like a ragdoll. She is contorted into painful-looking poses, accentuated  by the sickening, unnerving sounds of bones breaking and crunching.  This scene is juxtaposed with Susie practicing the dance of a  protagonist in the company’s place. At the end of the scene, Olga is  left as a ball of twisted, broken limbs. The violence in that scene  alone makes the original film’s violence look tame in comparison.

However, Olga’s death scene has nothing on the last act of the film.  The first three acts of the film were relatively straight forward, with  some bizarre and rather disturbing scenes sprinkled in here or there.  The last act, on the other hand is where everything goes completely off  the rails. It features a twist that no one would see coming. To see it  unfold is mesmerizing, leaving the audience confused, bewildered, and  questioning what they just watched. Attempting to describe it would not  do it justice when compared to seeing it with your own eyes.

As one can tell from this review, Suspiria is not a film meant for your average movie goer. Similar to films such as Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Alex Garland’s Annihilation, and Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy,  it is a film that requires a second or even third viewing to understand  what one just watched. It is a hard film to process upon the first time  viewing it.

Images: IMDb

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