Horror movies today look to shock you into fear instead of building you up to it; in the old days the lack of good make-up and special effects led to directors seeking to play around with audience’s imaginations instead. Director Luca Guadagnino has sought to grasp the ancient style in his latest outing.
Suspiria is a loose remake of Dairo Argento’s cult classic 1977 film of the same name. This new film takes place in 1977 too, with the setting again being a dance studio in East Berlin. We follow the young American dancer Suzie (Dakota Johnson) as she enters the academy that has rumors of being run by witches.
Guadagnino has a clear grasp of his craft and he’s able to slowly build dread in the audience, so that we end up seeing the bodies of the dancers as fragile sculptures; every strong movement or gesture feels like it could snap a limb at any moment. Horror movies of today rely on tension being built up to culminate in an eventual violent release; this film certainly has the latter half, but the build up is of angst and unease instead. In order for the audience to have any of these feelings, an immersion in the story is necessary, and Guadagnino achieves this as well, with brilliant camera work and poetic allusions in his character; the work of the strong cast also helps out.
However, the finale does fall into territory of a clichéd horror movie (like the original itself) and doesn’t prove satisfying enough for the master build-up by Guadagnino. There was also a subplot involving an elderly therapist, which the audience never connects to, and felt forced in for cold war symbolism. I have to say that one particular shock with this old therapist was finding that he was played by an actor named Lutz Ebersdorf, except no such actor exists. This elderly man is actually played by Tilda Swinton (who also plays one of the dance instructors at the academy), and for marketing reasons secrecy went about this fictional actor. The surprise factor of this gimmick is certainly pleasing, but Swinton’s performance feels very flat in that particular role, leading to that entire subplot (which takes up nearly 40 minutes of the film) feeling dragged and unnecessary.
In the end Suspiria was a refreshing new horror film that is sure to be very grotesque for some, but the masterful build up of dread and angst is sure to please many horror fans saturated with the quality of the genre’s releases today.