Movie Review: SUSPIRIA (2018)

SUSPIRIA, the latest film from director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), is nothing short of a visual masterpiece that not only pays respect to the original Argento film but manages to also be its own creation. The film stars Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Chloë Grace Moretz (Let Me In), and Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness).

Set to the backdrop of 1977 Berlin, SUSPIRIA centers around Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a young Amish woman who travels to Germany to fulfill her dream of attending the Markos Dance Academy. Upon her arrival, she learns of the disappearance of Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz), a former student of Markos Dance Academy who believed that the dance school was being run by a coven of witches. As Susie becomes acclimated to her new surroundings, she catches the eye of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), the matriarchal teacher of the school, quickly becoming her protege. As unexplained changes begin to cement themselves within Susie, the true nature of the school begins to reveal itself in the most devastating of ways.

I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of SUSPIRIA last month and by God was that an experience. Let me first start off by saying that I do like Dario Argento’s original film, though it is not my favorite of his (that award goes to Tenebre). With that in mind, I was curious as to what director Luca Guadagnino would bring to the table as there was much talk about the fact that what many consider to be Argento’s masterpiece would be getting a remake. What Guadagnino ended up making was what I consider to be a masterful work of art. He took the overarching themes presented in Argento’s original and designed a film that paid homage to the 1977 movie while still being uniquely different than what Argento originally created. This new version encompasses a visual spectacle that is vastly different than what fans should expect but still beautiful in its execution. Also, this new iteration has probably one of the most gruesome death scenes that I’ve seen all year (with the exception of Hereditary), that will leave viewers shocked and deeply disturbed.

One of the aspects that I loved most about the film were the strong feminine themes that were presented throughout. The cast was made up of 99% female actors and each performance, whether in speaking roles or that of the choreographed dances, were strong and memorable. As for the dance numbers, those moments were powerful and hypnotic, so much so that I found myself having a strong emotional reaction to them. Even as the movie came to a close I felt tears pooling in my eyes and to this day I can’t pinpoint why that happened. My only guess is that there was so much beauty, horror, and tragedy unfolding in the movement of these female bodies that on a subconscious level my whole being somehow connected with the stories they were telling through their performances. I know this sounds very vague and abstract, but if you are anything like me, I’m sure you’ll understand once seeing the movie. Very few movies showcase female empowerment in a way that is both subtle but all encompassing, and Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA was able to ride that fine line in a way that I haven’t seen in any other film this year.

The other surprising aspect of SUSPIRIA were the moment that were drenched in bloodshed. To understand this better you must know that this version of the film has scrapped away the pulsating neon colors that the original is known for.  Instead Guadagnino goes for a muted palette that evokes a feeling of monotony and coolness. However, when more of the graphic and violent imagery is displayed on screen, it’s done in a way that is both jarring and radiant as it contrasts so distinctly with that of the monochrome palette. The scenes of violence aren’t many, in fact, they are few and far between, but god damn, when they happen, I can assure you that you won’t be ready.

All in all, I absolutely loved every single minute of SUSPIRIA. I was impressed with Dakota Johnson’s range, especially since coming from the hot mess that is 50 Shades of Grey, and Tilda Swinton, once again, proves that she is a force to be reckoned with as her talent and passion for the craft is on full display. I commend Amazon Studios for giving SUSPIRIA a wide release as I’m not sure this film is one that is going to appeal to the masses; regardless, it was a film that worked in perfect harmony for me. SUSPIRA is captivating, unforgiving, cataclysmic, soul-crushing, and audacious and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It may not be 100% perfect, but for me, it’s slight imperfections only enhance the masterful work that Guadagnino has created. This film is a must see and it’s yearning for you to succumb to its witchy ways.

SUSPIRIA arrives in theaters nationwide Friday, November 2 from Amazon Studios.

Shannon McGrew
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