Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Suspiria’ is beautifully terrifying piece of work

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Director Luca Guadagnino casts a spell with the latest “Suspiria” film that is equal parts horrifying and entrancing.

Guadagnino’s take on the tale of dancing witches isn’t so much of a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic as it is an audacious reimagining. Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is bold and grotesque, but it is so beautiful and passionate that the audience will be hard-pressed to take its eyes off the screen.

Set in the “German Autumn” of 1977, the year Argento’s original was released, Guadagnino creates this film with outward and inward terror. The fear of terrorist attacks in Berlin at the time created panic and political chaos. It becomes a bleak backdrop to contrast the entrancing darkness brewing inside a prestigious dance company where most of “Suspiria” takes place.   

Told in six acts and an epilogue, “Suspiria” starts with Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz), a former dancer driven to madness because of the horrors she discovered at the academy. Her psychologist Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf — although it’s pretty clear it’s Tilda Swinton in prosthetics) doesn’t quite believe in her claims of witches, yet when Patricia mysteriously disappears, he becomes increasingly suspicious of the darkness lurking within the academy.

Meanwhile, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a bright-eyed girl from Ohio, travels to Berlin to audition for the Markos Dance Academy. Susie proves herself to be a clearly naturally gifted dancer. Johnson’s performance is incredible. Susie’s dancing is raw and passionate, impressing artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and the other mothers — the witches within the dance company.

Guadagnino shows early on the terrifying power of the coven. As the coven of witches, intrigued by Susie’s talent, start priming her for a sort of sacrifice, a downright horrifying scene is introduced. Susie takes on the lead part in a dance called Volk after Olga (Elena Fokina), another dancer, leaves while angry at the mothers. In one room, Susie is dancing, contorting her body animalistically yet gracefully, unknowingly causing Olga pain. In another, Olga’s body is contorted like a rag doll in a grueling, more violently visceral way. The scene goes on for an uncomfortable amount of time, but, as with much of “Suspiria,” you can’t help but be entranced by the mothers’ sheer power.

The cast is filled with a spectacular group of women giving some of their best performances yet. Swinton performs dual roles, making Madame Blanc dark yet warm, especially in her relationship with Susie. Mia Goth plays Sara, Susie’s best friend in the academy, beautifully.

“Suspiria” is intense, but its look at female self-discovery is masterful, considering it’s directed by a male. Keep in mind it’s no remake, but Guadagnino does a wonderful job of making this film a complex reimagining of its predecessor. The film is often agonizing, but it is also enthralling as Susie comes into her own and finds her power. It’s breathtaking.

“Suspiria”

Runtime: 152 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Score: 5/5