Berlin, 1977, a city divided, torn between west and east, the lure of the new and the enforced habits of the old, straining towards the future but in the grip of the past, a fault line between the grim disappointment of reality and what is beyond, a turmoil of repression and anger expressed in art and violence, the Markos Tanz Gruppe, a prestigious avant-garde dance academy, and the random acts of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, also known as the Red Army Faction.
Patricia Hingle (Carrie‘s Chloë Grace Moretz) flees from the academy to the apartment of elderly psychotherapist Doctor Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf) to tell him fearfully that it is run by a coven of witches who have hidden themselves since the war, that the gifts of dance they offered her came with a terrible price, before she runs into the night and vanishes.
Escaping from her strict upbringing in a Mennonite community in Ohio, Susie Bannion (Bad Times at the El Royale‘s Dakota Johnson) arrives to audition for the academy. Expecting to be perform for Madame Blanc (Snowpiercer‘s Tilda Swinton) she instead presents to her colleagues in a mirrored chamber of echoing wooden floors, a modern and provocative piece without music; a dream come true, Susie is accepted, but soon the nightmare begins.
A passion project of Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino, an obsessive fan of Dario Argento’s 1977 original since he saw as a child, Suspiria reunites him with his frequent collaborator Swinton with whom he worked on I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, the latter also featuring Johnson, David Kajganich’s screenplay taking the premise of that written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi but interpreting the moves differently to create a wholly new and challenging dance.
Berlin a city bombed and rebuilt and split asunder, it is a subdued horror of towering concrete facades which conceal the sinister acts that take place within their walls, the lurid colour schemes of Argento’s giallo replaced with a sombre wintery look which permeates the streets, the inescapable sunshine of Guadagnino’s earlier work a distant memory.
Painting with emotion rather than coloured lighting, the 1948 signature piece of the Markos Tanz Gruppe, Volk, is primitive and earthy, the forceful and dynamic choreography associated with the work of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, and with Susie stepping into Patricia’s vacated principal dancer place the film becomes swiftly and overtly supernatural, her performance tearing apart one of her fellow dancers in an act of transference.
Madame Blanc and the Susie the focal points of near stillness around which everything else moves, the matriarchy of the dance company founded as a barrier against the demands of the fascist regime guided by a trinity which predates Christianity, Mater Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum, and Mater Lachrymarum, the mothers of sighs, shadows and tears, Sara (The Secret of Marrowbone‘s Mia Goth) beges Klemperer to investigate even as he hunts for his missing wife Anke (Phantom of the Paradise‘s Jessica Harper, star of the original Suspiria).
A slow-burning fractured dream carried by the effortless elegance of Swinton, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is more controlled than Argento’s sometimes incomprehensible but undeniably stunning original yet replicates some of his style, camera pans and zoom shots, the sudden movement of characters hidden in deep focus; while his interpretation of the steps will not please everyone is in every way preferable to a slavish restaging without spirit.