What do you want first: the good news or the bad news?
I’ll assume you picked the bad news first, because who wants to end with bad news? The bad news is that Suspiria, more of a re-imagining than a remake of the 1977 horror film, clocks in at 152 whopping minutes. That’s a lot for any film, and especially a lot for a horror film. There are very few movies out there that can creep past the 2 ½ hour mark without feeling, well, far too long for me, and Suspiria doesn’t prove to be the exception. It’s a lot of movie, and if you’re going to the theater, I recommend settling into one of those fancy recliner options if you’ve got the choice.
The good news is that even with its long running time and some of its more avant-garde choices, I still found the experience worthwhile.
Suspiria is the next film from director Luca Guadgnino, fresh off the success of last year’s Call Me by Your Name. It takes a lot of liberties from the original, as the additional hour of content might suggest, but the bones are roughly the same. Suspiria stars Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, a Mennonite dancer from the Midwest who goes to Germany to join a famed dance troupe. The German setting and time period is crucial in Guadgnino’s rendering of this tale, which is set against the backdrop of the German Autumn, a series of events in 1977 associated with the left-wing terrorist group Red Army Faction (RAF) that culminated in the hijacking of a plane. These events and the reverberations from World War II play heavily into the themes of the film.
Bannion is admitted to the dance school after Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) watches her mesmerizing audition, and she soon rises through the ranks of the school after earning a lead part in an upcoming performance. There is a lot of actual dancing in this version of Susperia, and those scenes made up my favorite parts of the film. The score composed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke also contributes to the atmosphere.
While Bannion learns about the internal politics of the dance school, has disturbing nightmares each night, and makes friends with her fellow troupe members, we see a separate story spin off from the main narrative with Dr. Jozef Klemperer. The credits would have you believe this part is played by an unknown actor, but once again this is Swinton in heavy layers of prosthetics and makeup, which means the main cast is entirely composed of women. Dr. Klemperer is treating a young dancer (Chloe Grace Moretz) who goes missing, and as he gets drawn into the mystery of her disappearance, he also ruminates on the unsolved mystery of his own wife’s disappearance during World War II. This thread of the story produces both some of the best and worst moments of the film – the story culminates in an emotional resolution, but Klemperer’s part is so sporadically woven into the narrative early on that some of it feels disjointed or even out of nowhere. As far as the performances go, I knew Swinton would be great, because she always is, but I was caught off guard by how much I enjoyed Johnson’s performance.
Suspiria is, above all, an incredibly alienating film. I enjoyed it myself, but I’d honestly be hesitant to recommend it to everyone, especially someone looking for a fun horror film filled with jump scares. It’s a trying affair in both subject, narrative, and length, and the film’s final 30-40 minutes do feel labored. I had a sense of what I thought would be the actual ending, and then the movie continued on far past that point. But at the same time, I found myself thinking of movies like Only Lovers Left Alive (not just because of Tilda, but surely partially) as I watched. The film was stylish, trance-like, and somehow made me feel both subdued and comfortable while also feeling unnerved and even disturbed. It’s a strange and unique feeling I left with, and so for me, this was a movie I’m glad I saw and that I suspect will stay with me for quite some time, as I’m still ruminating on its themes. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.