In Luca Guadagnino’s transfixing re-imagining of the Dario Argento cult classic, we are engulfed in a coven of female rage. Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Mia Goth, the film takes place in 1977 Berlin, the wall is up and the horrors of the Third Reich are prevalent. When Susie Bannion (Johnson) receives a place at the prestigious Markos Dance Academy, she immediately catches the eyes of the company officials – but all is most definitely not as it seems.
The 1977 original is beloved and analysed by many, but Guadagnino effortlessly makes this his own. The vibrant and intense primary colours have been turned to bleak and muted greys, indicative of the setting and its political and social climate. The academy almost seems like a safe haven or a fortress from Berlin’s miserable snowy streets. When Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) escapes the school, she visits local psychiatrist Dr Jozef Klemperer. Something is very wrong; Patricia can’t stop moving, humming, gracefully lifting her arms as though under a spell. She tells him “she wants to get inside me” and is insistent that there are dangerous hidden parts of the school. Patricia leaves and the doctor is left concerned; his suspicions – along with the audiences’ – brew into his own investigation.
The infamous mirror scene, which was all the talk after it screened at this years CinemaCon, is an unsettling symphony of violence, sighs, and bodies hitting the floor. Whilst Susie performs her first breath-taking solo, next door another dancer is being thrown from wall to wall as she moves, and is left maimed and disfigured in her own piss and blood. Susie clearly has untapped abilities, and the teaching staff begin to groom her for some sort of occult need. The women in charge, including Madame Blanc (Swinton), discuss over dinner if she is “the right girl.” Meanwhile, a surprising scene stealer is found in Mia Goth’s Sara. A fellow dancer, she is friendly and warm to Susie on her arrival, sharing secrets and advice in their dorms. When Susie is chosen to play the protagonist in their newest dance, the Volk, she is nothing but supportive – but begins to have her own suspicions when she notices strange goings on herself.
The terror is real and always there, but it’s an under-the-skin type feeling, nothing jumps out at you in the walls of the academy. Rather, you find the evil for yourself. In Susie’s nightmares, horrific images flash across the screen, blood, guts, insects, flesh, floating women; something is drawing her in. This is accompanied by Thom Yorke’s uniquely discordant score, with minor-key synths like something out of an 80s sci-fi horror. His music is enticing and unsettling, a perfect undercurrent to the tone and movement of the cast. Equally impressive is the choreography, particularly the group performance of Volk, by Damien Jalet. His work is sharp and cutting, bodies slam to the floor and limbs shoot out with purpose – these witches know exactly what they are after.
As crazy as it may sound, Guadagnino’s Suspiria feels almost realistic. The once calm rage of women erupting through dance and bloodshed feels symbolic of the truths of womanhood; it’s gory and intense and inescapable. He has crafted a darkly beautiful feminine story, but he has let the women own every moment, and own it they do.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm