It takes nerve and vision to remake something as cinematically revered as “Suspiria” so there’s no doubting director Luca Guadagnino’s ambition and confidence. In reimagining the sacred, Guadagnino manages to take the bones of the original and reshape them into something disturbingly new and yet primally familiar.
A darkness lurks at the heart of the world-renowned Markos Dance Academy in 1977 Berlin, a darkness which calls to Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), an ambitious young dancer from America who immediately gains the attention and favour of the lead choreographer, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). But when local psychotherapist Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton) starts to investigate the company after one of his patients, a pupil there, goes missing, he uncovers an eldritch conspiracy which has endured for thousands of years.
As archly creepy and disconcerting as the original, the narrative retains an unsettlingly jumbled and discordant, nightmarish quality, by turns hideous and beautiful. It may embrace the ugly colour palette of 1970s Berlin a little too ardently but it serves as an excellent backdrop for the incarnadine brushstrokes with which Gaudagnino despoils his canvas. The film’s strength – and where it surpasses the original easily – is in its physical authenticity. This “Suspiria” always feels like it’s taking place in real locations, not gaudily daubed sound stages. It’s a shame, then, that Dakota Johnson’s admittedly physically committed performance is so utterly hollow that it’s blisteringly overshadowed by a breath-taking dual performance from Tilda Swinton as both the lead choreographer – and one of the senior coven members – Madame Blanc and the elderly psychotherapist, a turn which goes much deeper than the impressive prosthetics and make-up.
All in all, it’s a little too long and a little too impenetrable for its own good with a decidedly less cacophonous, but no less intriguing, score from Thom Yorke and some genuinely astonishing visuals and sound design, it’s a unique piece of work even if it can seem quite soulless and detached at times.