Suspiria is playing in NY and LA and expands nationally on November 2.
By Rachel M.
Oscar nominee Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) directs this unsettling take on the 1977 cult horror classic Suspiria. American dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in 1970s Berlin hoping to join the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Company. She comes from a Mennonite family in America and grew up feeling that she did not match up with the religion. She is out to explore the world and sexuality and movement. In her very first rehearsal, Susie impresses the company’s famed choreographer, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), and is selected as lead dancer. Olga, the previous lead, breaks down and accuses the “Mothers” who run the company of being witches. Before Olga can flee she is captured and tortured by a mysterious force somehow connected to Susie’s dancing. As rehearsals continue for the final performance of the company’s signature piece, “Volk,” Susie and Madame Blanc grow strangely close, suggesting that Susie’s purpose in the dance company goes beyond dancing.
Meanwhile, psychotherapist Dr. Klemperer (played by Swinton but billed as Lutz Ebersdorf) discovers a disturbing diary from his patient, a former Markos dancer named Patricia, (Chloë Grace Moretz) outlining an ancient demonic religion practiced by the Mothers. After Patricia mysteriously disappears, the doctor tries to alert the police but gets nowhere. Taking matters into his own hands, he approaches a dancer named Sara (Mia Goth) for help. Sara secretly ventures into the depths of the dance studio’s hidden chambers, where strange and horrific discoveries await.
Despite the strong female performances in this film, the deeper story is for the most part incomprehensible. Once the viewer understands that the dance troupe is really a coven, there is no real conflict or suspense. All that is left is to see who gets tortured. There’s no clear resolution either – there’s a power struggle within the faculty about how to worship and who should lead, but it’s not a compelling plot line at all. The film wasn’t scary, it was just revolting. I found myself wanting it to be over.
Two redeeming factors: First, the prosthetic effects created by Mark Coulier are pretty incredible. Creating a realistic male alter ego for Swinton who is also many years her senior is a work to behold. Second, the dancing is spell-binding. The very physical nature of the choreography is primal and the supernatural effect it has on its victims, grotesque. Johnson (with the help of somebody doubles) and Elena Fokina, who plays Olga, perform these scenes perfectly. Too bad these features aren’t enough to save the film.
I give Suspiria a D.