‘Love and manipulation, they share houses very often…’
Horror is without a doubt my favourite genre and it is also the genre that I return to the most. I’m no expert but I’ve seen most of the horror movies that you would expect a 31-year-old geek to have seen. I obsessed over The Evil Dead. I have an unhealthy fascination with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Hell, I’ve even sat through the entire Human Centipede experience. I recount all of this because one glaring omission from a lifetime of watching horror movies is Dario Argento’s supposed horror classic Suspiria. Rather than going back and watching the original, I instead plumped for Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake. And it is quite something…
A young American dancer (Dakota Johnson) joins a mysterious Berlin dance company at some point in the 1970s. Mentored by the uncompromising Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), the young dancer becomes embroiled in evil and witchcraft.
Firstly, the cinematography and tone of Suspiria is incredibly rich and enticing… at first. It successfully channels the feel of classics ’60s and ’70s cinema. Films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen spring to mind. At over two and a half hours long though, it eventually becomes a little tiresome. Indeed, that is the main criticism of Guadagnino’s film. Despite being over an hour longer than the original, it still never really explores the idea of German guilt over the Second World War or the sexual awakening and subsequent coming of age of its protagonist.
This is a shame because the acting is astonishing. Tilda Swinton takes on three roles in Suspiria, one of them being that of an old man, and she performs each so successfully that I didn’t know two of them were her until the end credits. Dakota Johnson is the real star though as the ill-fated Susie. She oscillates between being vulnerable and self-assured at various points throughout the movie making it difficult to ever pin the character down, something that becomes important in the, frankly bizarre, conclusion.
And on that conclusion, the whole thing is so outlandish, so grotesque, that it almost ceases being frightening and instead veers into the realm of the laughably absurd. The performances just about keep things grounded but the whole thing almost drowns under the weight of its own ridiculousness.
Suspiria is not Hereditary, it’s not even Black Swan. It is imaginative, gruelling and absolutely bonkers however and, more than anything, it is further proof that horror is currently the best place to find innovation and dark inspiration in the film industry. Long may it continue.