★ ★ ★ ☆
With his remake of the classic Dario Argento supernatural horror film “Suspiria” director Luca Guadagnino has made a film as glossy and grandiose as the original giallo. Maybe even more so. What he has also done is intellectualize the story to the point where you don’t actually get scared you just think you do.
Set in 1977 Berlin, the film begins with a manic episode. The first of many. Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz), on the run from the Tanz Ballet School, is distraught. Making her way to the office of her psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf a.k.a. Tilda Swinton under and inch or two of make-up) she’s in the midst of a breakdown, ranting about witches before disappearing into the city leaving Klemperer with more questions than answers.
Cut to the story of American ballet student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), Patricia’s replacement at the prestigious dance school. A Mennonite from rural Ohio she arrives for an audition with the school’s formidable head teacher Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton in more recognizable form) despite never having studied or danced professionally. Her raw talent is enough to earn her a berth with at the school and soon she has not only formed a bond with Blanc, but is dancing the lead in a production of the avant-garde piece “Volk.”
Dr. Klemperer and Susie’s roommate Sara (Mia Goth) think something is wonky at the school but can’t figure out what is wrong. Imagine their surprise (SPOILER ALERT UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE ORIGINAL FILM!) when it becomes apparent the school is run by a coven of witches intent on human sacrifice.
Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich keep the bones of Argento’s story, fleshing it out with much talk of the terrorist Baader-Mienhof bombings, Susie’s backstory and Klemperer’s search for his long lost wife. Aptly subtitled “Six Acts and an Epilogue Set in a Divided Berlin” the new version is an hour longer than the original and while it is visually stunning it feels padded for length.
Not to say there aren’t memorable moments and ideas. A death-by-voo-doo-dance sequence is queasily beautiful and the film’s climax, a Grand Guignol freak-out, must be seen to be believed. It’s beautifully rendered, all grey skies and red rivers of blood, not nearly as lurid as Argento’s movie—except, perhaps for the exploding head sequence—but it is solemn when it should shock.
3 ½ STARS