Hollywood has been planning a remake of Suspiria for more than a decade, and during that time it has always existed as a controversial project. After all, the 1977 original from master Dario Argento has long been hailed as one of the greatest examples of the horror genre, and any cinephile could rattle off a long list of re-dos that totally fell on their face. Now that the film has been made and screened, however, any and all trepidation or concern can be entirely dismissed. As witnessed this evening during Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, director Luca Guadagnino has created a work that shares key DNA with its predecessor while still standing very much on its own, and coalesces as a stunning, horrifying nightmare that is as shockingly gorgeous as it is unsettling.
Written by David Kajganich, the new Suspiria takes us back to Berlin in the year the original was released, following a young woman named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as she moves from the United States to enroll in a prestigious dance academy. What she doesn’t know, however, is that the school is covertly controlled by a coven of witches who channel their powers through their students in hopes of prolonging their existence and status. Because of her remarkable natural abilities, Susie is quickly taken under the wing of the commanding and respected Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), but as she advances she slowly begins to start understanding the truth.
Dario Argento’s original will forever be recognized for its breathtaking cinematography and insanely bold use of color, and while Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria molds its own aesthetic, it’s no less jaw-dropping. And this is true within the film’s many different modes. Simply moving through the dark halls and vast spaces of the academy is a haunting experience; while the cinematography and choreography for the dance sequences are exquisite and elegant while also fierce and violent. They make for a perfect appetizer for when the movie really sinks its teeth in and lovingly and horrifyingly embraces its genre. There’s a masterful use of cutaways that disturb on a whole other level, and nightmare montages that turn your blood ice cold as you fully register the monstrous imagery that flashes across the screen.
It’s not exactly a jaunt, as the runtime clocks in over two-and-a-half hours — but while that may seem intimidating, it’s an experience that earns its length. It’s certainly a challenging experience, as it plays in abstractions and keeps exposition to an extreme minimum, but it’s also anything but slow. At no point watching the film are you ever too far away from witnessing a sequence that will shake you, and every performance is utterly captivating. What’s more, it will ultimately be a cinematic experience that you take with you even after the lights go up in the theater and you make your way home, as I challenge anyone to see the movie and not feel immediately compelled to keep the otherworldly engrossment going by diving into Thom Yorke’s genius soundtrack (which, if there’s any justice in the film world, will be winning an Academy Award come February).
We still have a long fall season ahead of us, with many brilliant filmmakers still waiting to debut their latest opuses, but it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see many — if any — greater than Suspiria. It’s a film that earns the adjective “phenomenal” in every respect: an awe-inspiring achievement that exists to honor the original while delivering a whole new and deeply satisfying experience.