Director: Luca Guadagnino
Screenwriter: David Kajganich, based on the characters created by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi.
Chloë Grace Moretz
Runtime: 152 mins.
Australian release date: 8 November 2018
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 11 October 2018.
Luca Guadagnino is on record as saying, “When I hear the word ‘style’, I put my hand to the gun. Style is alien to me. I hope that what I do comes across as a spoken language.” While that could be said of his last work, the glorious Call Me By Your Name, it’s certainly not the case in his new film, Suspiria, a remake of Dario Argento’s classic thriller of the same name. It’s dripping in style (and blood), to the point where the spoken text is largely incomprehensible, lost in a world of pretention. Indeed, Suspiria is a film synonymous with style; the original was noted for its innovative use of colour, its inventive cinematography and its surreal atmosphere. Once again the Italian director employs the talents of Tilda Swinton, though she’s a long way from her roles in the earlier Guadagnino features in which she’s starred, 2009’s I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash in 2015.
Deliberately set in 1977, the year Argento’s version was made, the film is again located in Germany but this time the action takes place in Berlin, not Freiburg. It opens with a young woman, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), visiting an elderly gentleman, Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), who appears to be her therapist. We learn that she’s a dancer at a famous ballet academy in the city but she’s babbling nonsense, obviously suffering from some sort of delusion. Next, we see Susie (Dakota Johnson) knocking at the doors of the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Company, freshly arrived from the USA. She has an appointment to audition for the famed choreographer, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), and her talent so impresses the madame she is immediately put in the position of primary dancer, replacing Olga (Elena Fokina), the previous lead. As time passes and the all-female troupe rehearses for what is planned to be the final performance of the company’s signature work, ‘Volk’, Susie and Madame Blanc grow strangely close. Meanwhile, Dr. Klemperer becomes worried when he loses contact with Patricia and he approaches another dancer, Sara (Mia Goth), to help him. As she ventures into the hidden bowels of the academy, she realises that a ghastly secret lies at the heart of the Markos Company.
Guadagnino has been obsessed with making Suspiria ever since he first saw Argento’s film as a young teenager (although Swinton refers to it as a “cover version” rather than a remake). The American writer David Kajganich, who wrote the script for A Bigger Splash, was employed to pen the screenplay, and he states that setting the film in Cold War Berlin “was a way we could bring social context into the story.” Indeed, despite being very much of the horror genre, the movie attempts to reflect the political situation in Germany at the time, its intention being that the growing realisation of the circumstances the school’s dancers find themselves in is mirrored by events in the outside world. “Moving the bulk of our story to Berlin during the tense final weeks of the Baader-Meinhof era meant we could situate the dance company right in the middle of a recent example of society’s battle with its addiction to fascism,” says Kajganich. Be that as it may, it’s fair to question whether the frequent references to the RFA (Red Army Faction) and the left-wing terrorism of the day are successfully linked to the main thread of the story and the ancient feminine spirit that underscores the strange goings-on at the dance academy. Personally, I don’t think so.
To this reviewer, the best thing about Suspiria is the haunting music by Radiohead singer Thom Yorke. And, of course, la Swinton. Should you decide to try to decipher Guadagnino’s film for yourself, watch closely - she has more than one role in this strange confection. To quote the director again, he has said that, “the truth of what I look for was always ‘what is the right position for the camera?’ Only after [do] you know what’s happening in the reality of the film.” In this case, I regret to say that his camera was not in the right position.