Reviewed by: Max Crawford

"If we compared the original to a Mark Rothko canvas - a distillation of raw emotion - this version is more akin to a colossal, baffling kinetic sculpture, one that seems to exist in more dimensions than it ought to."

Back in 2007 (yikes) I attended the Glasgow Film Festival's surprise movie with little idea what to expect. Three hours later I left the cinema in a state of shock, having been profoundly impacted by David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE. No other film has quite affected me the same way since. Not until Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria.

This is explicitly not a remake of Dario Argento's 1977 giallo masterpiece. It borrows the rough plot outline of the original, muddles in some of the mythology from sequels Inferno and Mother Of Tears, and spits it out into a sort of supernatural period drama that sidelines scenes of horror for most of the runtime and maximises their impact as a result. And boy, do they stay with you.

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The action takes place in West Berlin 1977, at the height of the German Autumn: a period of political upheaval (involving several hundred terorist bombings and the hijacking of an aircraft) provoked by the continued presence of Nazis in positions of power. It's not particularly subtle, but nobody shows up to a reimagining of Suspiria with a cry of: "All aboard the subtlety train!"

Dakota Johnson plays Susie Bannion, a promising dance student from the US who has come to audition at a world-renowned dance academy. That this academy is secretly a cover for a coven of witches is made explicit almost from the get-go, as borrowing your big reveal from a 40-year-old film is unlikely to engender much surprise. Susie's arrival coincides with political turmoil not only in Berlin but also in the coven: Tilda Swinton's upstart witch/dance instructor Madame Blanc seeks to usurp the leadership from, uh, Tilda Swinton's antediluvian matriarch Helena Markos. Swinton also plays the only real male character in the film, a psychiatric doctor who begins to unravel the strange occurrences at the dance academy. There are other actors to round out the numbers, but it's really the Swinton and Johnson show.

This version of Suspiria eschews the original's style-as-substance approach for something more measured, allowing character to come to the fore and rewarding attention and patience on the part of the viewer. Gone also are the vivid washes of colour and in-your-face score, replaced by a more subdued tertiary palette and a haunting Thom Yorke soundscape. It feels almost like an overly self-conscious effort not to ape the original, but suits the more thoughtful tone and pacing. The visuals are quietly brilliant and technically daunting, with 360-degree pans shot in a fully mirrored room betraying no signs of crew or equipment. Johnson's physical performance is exceptional, something which is echoed throughout; this is an extremely visceral film, you can feel its movement. If we compared the original to a Mark Rothko canvas - a distillation of raw emotion - this version is more akin to a colossal, baffling kinetic sculpture, one that seems to exist in more dimensions than it ought to.

Without wanting to give too much away, the last 15 minutes is balls-out bonkers. The two-and-a-half-hour runtime is a little indulgent but there's enough going on to justify it and the aforementioned demented climax is sufficient to absolve a multitude of sins. Much like the original, this version of Suspiria won't be for everyone, but if you don't like it you're not one of My People and I am against you.

A loving homage to an enduring classic, and hopefully one we'll still be talking about 40 years from now.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2018
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A nightmare brews in a dance company.
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Director: Luca Guadagnino

Writer: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi, David Kajganich

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine Leboutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Malgorzata Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz, Vanda Capriolo

Year: 2018

Runtime: 152 minutes

Country: Italy, US

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