The ad for the original SUSPIRIA (directed by Dario Argento, 1977) completely freaked me out as a kid, so when the 2018 SUSPIRIA remake came out, I resolved to check it out. I found it an overwrought if strangely compelling film that by the end adds up to something more than the sum of its parts.
The film is about a young woman Susie (Dakota Johnson), who abandons her Mennonite family after her mother’s death in 1977 to travel to Berlin and join a dance school led by a group of enigmatic women including Madame Blanc (an understated but intense performance by Tilda Swinton). These women turn out to be witches in the midst of a power struggle between Blanc and the presiding, physically waning matriarch, Madame Markos, who claims to be the incarnation of Mother Suspiriam. They are planning a ritual to place Markos’s spirit into the young body of one of their dancers. Susie’s natural dancing talent and spiritual sensitivity makes her an ideal candidate and culminates in a grisly confrontation.
The film is overwrought in creating tension that isn’t there and by overworking the camera with tilts and zooms that seem to have no purpose. There’s a lot of political subtext, with the Berlin Wall often shown along with newscasts about hijackings and assassinations. The political stuff has been criticized and subjected to its own overwrought interpretations by critics, though to me they’re there just to remind us we’re in Berlin in the year 1977. Critics also spotted numerous big themes in the film, though the only one apparent to me is the matriarchal power struggle. What comes through far more strongly is a reach to celebrate a distinct horror aesthetic.
The SUSPIRIA remake is quite beautiful in its design and becomes increasingly engaging once the director stops celebrating the art of film and starts telling a real story. It’s not very scary, though it has its grisly moments, and the gory ending is quite something. The witches themselves are pretty interesting, and I enjoyed their history more than the real historical subtext to a point I wished there was more of it and less of the other. Overall, I liked it, admittedly a lot, though I can’t say I loved it or that it stuck with me as I thought it might. Definitely recommended for horror aficionados looking for something fresh; for the rest, YMMV.