Why You Should Check Out ‘Suspiria’: The Most Horrifyingly Beautiful Film Of 2018

Expanding the themes and tone of the 1977 horror classic with an A-List cast and political intrigue, the ‘Suspiria’ remake is set to shock you.

Dakota Johnson in Suspiria
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As a general rule, remakes aren’t supposed to be good. And they’re definitely not supposed to surpass the original. Yet, every now and again, something surprising happens.

Zack Snyder’s debut film, 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead, was a remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic and held its own. Similarly, the American spin on Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One In was on par with the original.

But Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria might have truly set the bar for a remake fulfilling – and then surpassing – its potential.  When audiences first saw scenes at CinemaCon in Las Vegas back in April of this year, the reactions were extreme. Collider’s Steve Weintraub called it “one of the most f**ked up things I’ve ever seen”, while Fandago added that it was “seriously some of the most disturbing body horror. They went for it and the #CinemaCon audience is gasping”.

Audiences in Australia are set for the same experience, and Junkee was among the first in the world to witness Suspiria in all its gruesome glory at screenings held in Melbourne and Sydney this week.

And there is plenty of gruesome glory to be had. Anyone familiar with Dario Argento’s 1977 original understands what a feat it is to take on a movie so beloved and universally acclaimed. The visuals and groundbreaking aesthetic have been duplicated and imitated for more than 40 years at this point. Yet there was also potential.

The Italian film was thin on plot: it evolved around a young woman, Suzy, who arrives to study at a famous ballet school in Germany. Strange things keep occurring, although none that specifically impact Suzy until the 12 breathtaking final minutes of the flick (which runs at a tight hour and a half). There’s creepy shit going on – as evidenced by the elaborate, opening murders – but the what and the why is never really explained beyond “because, witches”. In the context of the movie and Argento’s filmography – which is so heavy on tone and aesthetic – Suspiria works. The unanswered questions and thin plot help add to the intrigue and the mystique and the overall unease experienced by viewers.

In Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria, however, there is more at play. Yes, witches are still at the heart of it, but his take on the central premise is overtly political. There’s a power struggle going on inside the dance school, one that is disturbing and otherworldly. If you haven’t already, check out the trailer below:

Yet the setting is also deftly important in this version in a way that it wasn’t in the original. The Berlin wall and the separation between the east and west in the city during the ‘70s is a key touchstone. Characters are still haunted by the events of World War II, with the 1977 Iran hostage crisis also unfolding in the background of the film and drawing a link between the fictional events and real ones.

It’s a decidedly feminist story, with every single principal character played a woman: including an 84-year old male psychiatrist who is actually Tilda Swinton in incredible aging make-up effects. In a peak Tilda Swinton move, she also plays the visionary of the dance school, which this Susie (Dakota Johnson) has travelled from Ohio to attend.

Gone are the feather-haired boys in too-tight leotards and Igor-esque manservants: 2018 Suspiria is populated entirely by women. Some are innocent, others are the very opposite, but this conscious choice adds another layer of meaning that wasn’t there before.

Also kicked to the curb are the kitsch ballet routines of the original, which barely had more than a few minutes of dodgy screen time (thankfully). They’ve been replaced with sharp, confrontational and contemporary dance numbers that are grunted out by a cast mixed with professional dancers among the actors like Swinton, Johnson, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Australian performer Gala Moody in what should be a breakout performance if there’s any justice in the world.

The female body here is used as a weapon, quite literally at times, with the OTT slasher death scenes switched for nightmarish ones that feel closer to a Gustave Doré painting. In a smart move, Guadagnino has stayed away from Argento’s signature neon palette of sharp reds and blues. Although visually not as striking, it does a lot to separate the two films with the 2018 version adhering to an almost muted, Wes Anderson-esque aesthetic.

Dakota Johnson in Suspiria

It’s testament to the skill of a filmmaker like Guadagnino and team of professionals he can assemble that you don’t feel the length of the runtime, which is a full hour longer than Argento’s. There’s more story here, more plot twists, more intrigue, more mythology, more world-building, more threads to be tugged, and more gory dance numbers. Fresh off the success of Call Me By Your Name – which scored him his first Academy Award nomination for best director – he leans hard into his strengths, which includes reuniting with Johnson and Swinton, his longtime collaborator of 28 years.

As an auteur, Guadagnino bets on himself as much as he bets on the team he brings with him, including editor Walter Fasano and costume designer Giulia Piersanti. It’s something the audience gets to benefit from, as well as a measured guiding hand in Argento serving as associate producer.

Suspiria is a shocking movie in many ways, full of shocking scenes, but the biggest shock of all is how good it ends up being. Staying true to the theme and tone of the original, it’s the kind of movie that will haunt you – just like the accompanying score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke – long after the credits have rolled.

(All images: Amazon Studios)

Suspiria is in cinemas on November 8, with sneak previews from November 2 to 4.