I walked into Suspiria with no expectations. I had not seen the original film released in 1977 and knew nothing of the plot, characters, or supernatural elements it contained.
And honestly, it might have been for the better.
Luca Guadagino’s homage to the cult horror classic directed by Dario Argento is as beautiful as it is gruesome and manages to interweave the two in a way that makes the experience otherworldly. Audiences are introduced to Susie (Dakota Johnson) who joins a mysterious dance company in Berlin. Susie gives a performance during rehearsal and her movements are juxtapositioned with another dancer who is contorting her body as if possessed by something. Numerous editing choices in that vein make Suspiria the kind of film you cannot look away from. Fear of what will appear next on the screen is outweighed by the sheer beauty of what you see. The cinematography relies heavily on the use of mirrors to bend angles and play with the audience’s perception. Scenes of dancers running away in fear are laced in tension as the angles make viewers unsure of the path ahead. Numerous uses of a wonderfully dated slow zoom gives the effect of the audience slowly creeping in on a scene or character.
Red light is almost a signal of mood and slowly seeps its way into the film, like blood. The film begins with muted colors in a gray setting until it culminates in its final scene during which the film has been enveloped in a bloody red. Combined with Thom Yorke’s spellbinding score, Suspiria becomes less about the story being told and more about how the story looks and feels.
What might be the most shocking takeaway from Suspiria is Dakota Johnson’s performance as Susie. Susie begins the film with a certain naivete but ends in something powerful — far more powerful than Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) could have ever dreamed. Susie turns the horror film trope of the “final girl” on its head. Instead of running away from the evil forces in the film, Susie walks towards them as if it was her only purpose. In the dinner scene towards the end of the film, Madame Blanc looks to see Susie’s gaze, with unflinching and knowing eyes. Unlike other “final girls,” Susie is enthralled rather than afraid — and so was I.
Suspiria is messy from a story standpoint but a spectacle in every other.