As her Mennonite mother rasps her last breaths of life, youngest daughter Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the prestigious Markos dance company in Berlin. Given an impromptu audition, Susie mesmerises its directress Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). So sure-footed and oblivious to her mother’s death or the girls who mysteriously disappear from the dance school, it appears that Susie knows far more than she should…
… ‘Suspiria’ is not a remake. It is a re-imagining – and it is at pains to be seen as one.
Where Dario Argento’s seminal ’Suspiria’ was a riot of reds and greens with a chaotically strangled soundtrack by rock outfit ‘Goblin’, Luca Guadagnino’s remake takes a deliberately different direction. Where Argento’s palette was vivid, Guadagnino’s is washed out. Where Dario’s camerawork was jagged, Guadagnino’s are rough assemblages. Where Argento’s composition was on the nose, Walter Fasano’s does everything to spite it, all of which bring us to a point of comparison with Argento’s original.
Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ is not a remake. It is a re-imagining – and it is at pains to be seen as one. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the high calibre corralling of its cast.
Standing like an ashen willow, Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc dominates where her character should give support. Embers tumbling from her permanently clenched cigarette, this is a woman on the edge who demands her students join her on the precipice. Dance rehearsals are crushing encounters, all of which are excused away with a commitment to discipline and craft. However, into this ashen furnace steps Dakota Johnston. A talented sacrifice, her Susie seems to be waiting to be broken or not.
Perched opposite Swinton’s matriarchal presence, Susie is a vibrant reflection of Madame Blanc herself. Instead of a newborn sampling surrendering to the judgement of an elegant husk, the question soon becomes will Swinton’s mistress let herself be mastered? Or can she curb the enthusiasm of this latest visitor to the well? Deliberately injecting nonsensical jump-cut nightmares, director Luca Guadagnino won’t allow it to be so linear. Alluding to characters that have been only fleetingly introduced, night terrors are intentionally injected into the main narrative.
For more tangible coherence we are instead invited to follow the earnest concerns of Dr Josef Klemperer, a psychiatrist approached by one of the school’s other dancers (Chloë Grace Moretz). However, this too turns out to be a slow burn attempt to attach meaning and sympathies to the main plot’s conclusion.
By its end, like Argento’s original, Guadagnino’s ’Suspiria’ is wilfully mired in vagueness. At its centre where you’d normally expect a plot, there is an intentional void into which each viewer can pour their own meaning. It’s not about a cabalistic society feeding its pre-war appetites nor one girl’s odyssey to be accepted by those who vicariously live off others. This new ’Suspiria’ is an even blanker canvas upon which another likeness has been painted. Whether it pleases you or not depends or not entirely on how you feel about Argento’s original.