Luca Guadagnino’s harrowing dance epic takes the Call Me By Your Name director far from his usual fair of sun-soaked stories of desire. Suspiria reunites Guadagnino with A Bigger Splash co-stars Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson in this unforgettable homage to Dario Argento’s original 1977 thriller. It’s dense and intense. The weak should stay home.
A former student of the Markos Dance Academy, Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz), vanishes after revealing to a psychotherapist that the Academy is a front for an ancient coven of witches.
Enter Susie Bannion (Johnson), who has travelled far from her family in Ohio to study under the revered Madame Blanc (Swinton). Susie is quickly deemed capable of playing the challenging lead role in the ‘Volk’ dance. Or has she been selected for a far darker purpose? Johnson and co-star Mia Goth fill their roles well, but as far as performances are concerned the film belongs to Swinton and her alias Lutz Ebersdorf. As Madame Blanc, she seems to peer into others’ souls whilst talking face-to-face.
The weakest members of the audience walked out of the premiere screening of Suspiria at the Venice Film Festival. Admittedly there is a lot to stomach. In one scene, Susie performs the ‘Volk’ whilst the previously insubordinate student Olga is tortured in another room. Olga’s body is telekinetically contorted and disfigured by Susie’s dance moves. The ‘bend and snap’ has never looked so terrifying. By the end of the spine-liquifying sequence Olga is an unrecognisable heap on the floor, a pretzel made of flesh in a pool of her own fluids.
Quick cuts, Pina Bausch-like expressive dance routines, eerie camera flourishes, and a chilling original soundtrack and score by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. All are core ingredients Guadagnino drops into his cauldron to create an ethereal cinematic experience. You get the strong impression that he knew exactly what he was doing, for this is a movie of passion.
On paper, Suspiria is the opposite of popular taste. The six acts and an epilogue run across a hefty 150 minutes. But this running time allows for densely packed detail and interweaving arcs, which give the sense that a rich and chequered history exists for the coven. The story is a puzzle box that slowly reveals its secrets, occasionally in great comedic fashion, as the film rolls along. Like any good, long film, those taken in its powers of persuasion and storytelling abilities will not feel the runtime.
A Quiet Place, Halloween, and Hereditary can step aside because Suspiria is poised to take the crown as the best horror film of the year.
Suspiria is in cinemas now.