To start, a warning.
If you find yourself blanching at excessive gore or offended by bizarre pagan rituals, steer clear of this film. But if that sounds like your jam, and you also love Tilda Swinton, “Suspiria” is something you have to watch.
“Suspiria” is haunting. A reimagining of the 70s original, this take is a beautiful waking nightmare. While the original Italian horror is doused in nauseating hues, this remake shows restraint with its subdued color palette. While some took issue with this, I felt it only heightened the surreality of the film. When color does appear, it’s off-putting and memorable. In particular, I loved the bright red rope dresses in the penultimate dance sequence. Quite riveting.
The camera also has no problem eschewing straightforward cinematography. One shot can meander through the frame, almost forgoing the people it’s meant to portray and merely examines the world they live in. Other times, flashes of discordant images bombard the eye, leaving you unsure of what you just witnessed. Director Luca Guadagnino does not balk at the challenge of doing justice to this classic and turns in a phenomenal piece of art.
Headlining the cast is Dakota Johnson, most known as the female lead of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I have no desire to watch those films and had only seen her in one other role, which I found lacking. Thankfully, her performance in this film was much more enjoyable. She portrays Susie Brannon, a young dancer who travels from America all the way to Berlin to join a dance academy that turns out to be more than just a dance company.
At the school’s head is Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc. A figure revered by Susie, Madame Blanc guides her on this new path laid before her. But Swinton also pulls double duty and portrays Dr. Klemperer, a man trying to suss out the secrets held within the walls of the academy. She also plays the namesake of the academy, Helena Markos. Under her guidance, the school thrives, and the world behind the facade does as well. Suffice it to say, Tilda Swinton is the boss and is a massive delight to watch in all three roles.
While not overly invested in typical horror tropes, the film maintains a thread of dread throughout. When that uneasy calm is broken, the film relishes in unleashing visceral imagery on its audience. The scene with Olga, in particular, is stunning, horrifying and beautiful all at the same time.
“Suspiria” holds no desire to play out as a beat-by-beat horror film. It runs just over two-and-a-half hours but doesn’t feel like a slog. But I wasn’t always enamored by everything on screen and did drift a bit throughout. This film is definitely an art film, and while I do enjoy those types of things from time to time, if that isn’t your thing, “Suspiria” may fail to grab your attention.
The story is also befuddling, with the broad strokes clearly defined but the minutia lost on me. I didn’t quite understand what role Dr. Klemperer had in the film outside of boy detective, but he did have an emotional arc from start to finish. I just didn’t quite understand it. The film also has its own internal mythology which is hinted at but not clearly defined. In a world where people nitpick everything within a shared universe, this film has no need for overwrought exposition. You’ll either get it or you won’t.
Much like the dances in the film, “Suspiria” is a tempestuous spectacle. At rest or in motion, it strives to convey emotion. While I feel it didn’t always hit the mark, it was nonetheless a beautiful film to consume.
Maybe now I’ll finally get around to watching the original.
“Suspiria” is now available on Blu-ray and digitally. It is rated R.
4 out of 5 stars
Oscar Chavez Castaneda is the Montrose Daily Press’ film critic. Find him on Instagram @oscarchavezcastaneda. He will review a movie new to theaters or a new DVD release every other week.