Suspiria is a cinematic shock to the senses. It is a truly unique experience; disturbing, bizarre, yet entrancingly hypnotic. The film holds your attention like a hallucinogenic riptide. It swings wildly from nightmarish to alluring, then back again. The genius is that it remains substantive. The plot is not lost or cheapened by arthouse theatrics. Luca Guadagnino, the Italian auteur behind the Desire Trilogy, I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, and Call Me by Your Name; has delivered the most audacious film of the year. Suspiria is certainly not for mass consumption, but will be appreciated by discerning audiences.
Suspiria takes place in 1977 Berlin. The city is engulfed in political upheaval. Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, a young American woman who wants to study dance at the prestigious Markos Academy. Uncultured, untrained, and from a deeply religious Ohio family, Susie astonishes the director, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), in her audition. Susie is accepted into the all-female company. She moves into their studio; and is assigned a room with the beautiful Sara (Mia Goth).
At the same time, another Markos dancer has run away. Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) has become involved with a seditious organization, the Red Faction. She tells her psychologist, Dr. Jozef Klemperer (also played by a costumed Tilda Swinton), horrifying suspicions about Madame Blanc and the other teachers at the school.
Susie is haunted by dark, visceral dreams as her training begins. She continues to impress Madame Blanc with her talent, and is given the lead in an ambitious production. The dancers train for the big premiere, but Sara begins to wonder what happened to Patricia. As does Dr. Klemperer, when the girl fails to show up for her next session.
Suspiria is a reimagining of Dario Argento's seventies horror classic. I have never seen the original, but had read about it extensively over the years. I thought this knowledge would prepare me for what to expect in Luca Guadagnino's version. Shocking is an understatement. Suspiria truly comes out of left field. It's extremely graphic. There's no shortage of blood, violence, and nudity. But that's not what makes the film so intriguing. Guadagnino masterfully blends style with the densely layered plot. There's a torrent of meaning behind the characters and their actions. Suspiria is the type of film you argue passionately about, for and against. I can see why some would call the film indulgent, baffling. But counter that Suspiria is not meant to be completely understood in one fell swoop. Guadagnino wants the film to linger in your psyche, cause reflection.
The lead actresses in Suspiria are phenomenal. Tilda Swinton continues to be daring and experimental. She is unrecognizable as Dr. Klemperer. Swinton is a master of the acting craft; also playing a third character, which I won't reveal. Dakota Johnson takes a huge leap forward in her career. Her work in the film is so bold. She's never been shy about nudity, but Suspiria is not popcorn titillation like Fifty Shades of Grey. Her scenes are blisteringly raw, especially the dancing. Dakota Johnson bares her body undauntedly. Both women had previously worked with Luca Guadagnino. He earned their trust here. They gave him absolute fearlessness.
Two aspects of Suspiria are instrumental to its effectiveness. The score by Radiohead's Thom Yorke is the definition of haunting. It's eerily melodic, but a versatile accompaniment to the barrage of twisted imagery. Yorke's music works hand in hand with the frenetic dance scenes and rituals. Damien Jalet is the film's choreographer. He does an incredible job. The company's movements are convulsive, sinister. Each performance is like a trap, drawing the audience deeper into the recesses of terror. The climactic scene is jaw-dropping. I'm not usually a fan of excessive gore or nudity, but give the filmmakers an A plus for artistic collaboration.
Amazon Studios deserves credit for releasing Suspiria. They gave Luca Guadagnino the platform for his unfettered vision. Suspiria will be divisive, but I hope that audiences can embrace the radical. Film is meant to challenge convention, push boundaries. Suspiria unrepentantly does both.