Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ Digs Far Deeper Than the Original

Dir. Luca Guadagnino — 4.5 STARS

{shortcode-5535057d6ee5382bc6b1289635715dda90218304} It was always going to be hard to remake “Suspiria.” The 1977 film, directed by horror master Dario Argento, is remarkable not for its plot — a dance academy in Berlin is secretly a coven of witches — but for its visual style, featuring lush, expressive colors and impressionistic mise-en-scène. Luca Guadagnino’s new version takes a very different approach, muting the color palette but adding a host of new elements, themes, and twists. The result is a film that is just as rich and entrancing as the original, in an entirely new way.

The director’s first decision may have been his best: getting the right people involved. Tilda Swinton commands the film as both the imperious Madame Blanc, the head of the dance studio, and Dr. Josef Klemperer, a psychoanalyst who gets wrapped up in the coven’s diabolic dealings. Dakota Johnson stars as the protagonist, Sophie Bannion, a seemingly naïve Mennonite girl who comes from America to study at the studio — an excellent match for her combination of innocence and haughtiness, which was so underserved in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. It’s not just actors, either: The haunting, atmospheric music that hangs over the film is the product of Thom Yorke, frontman of Radiohead.

Guadagnino may not, at first glance, appear to be a natural fit for a film like “Suspiria.” Known in the U.S. primarily for having directed “Call Me By Your Name,” a vibrant, summery romance in the Italian countryside, for his next film to be a supernatural psychological horror film may seem like a jump. However, two aspects of his previous effort do carry through: his interest in sexuality and, especially, his ability to capture the body on film.

This skill comes in handy in “Suspiria,” as Guadagnino chooses to correct a missed opportunity in the original: He actually depicts his actors and actresses dancing. Dance is central to the magic of the witches and of the film. In one shocking intercut sequence, Sophie unknowingly destroys a classmate through dance, magically throwing the girl around a room and contorting her body in horrific ways. Due to its inherent dynamism, dance can be incredibly difficult to depict well, but Guadagnino more than succeeds, cutting back and forth with grace from wider shots encapsulating the full figure to close ups that isolate a particular body part. With so many different shots in such short sequences, it can be easy to disorient the audience, but Guadagnino manages to keep the viewer grounded.

The richness in the editing exists not only in the dance sequences, but throughout the film. In an early scene, another of the dance students, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), flops down into a chair in Josef’s office. In the course of that short action, Guadagnino uses four or five different shots at varying angles. This style allows him to grant a specificity to the action of the film — he can communicate what this particular person sitting in this chair at this time feels like. To aid in this endeavor, he uses a wide variety of camera movements: sometimes swooping through the air, sometimes still, sometimes creeping slowly forwards or backwards. One standout shot — a likely reference to the 1948 classic “The Red Shoes” — spins the camera to mimic Sophie’s own turns, pausing only briefly in an imitation of spotting technique. The movement and music build in unison, tension rising until the sequence climaxes with the first meeting between Sophie and Madame Blanc.


The intense political, historical, and psychoanalytical themes in “Suspiria” — missing from the original — create an interrelated web of symbolism throughout the film. The film is set against the backdrop of the German Autumn, the violent actions of far-left political groups in late 1977, while also looking back towards the Holocaust, and exploring ideas of guilt, innocence, and memory in relation to that tragedy. Josef’s job as a psychoanalyst introduces a new lens through which to read the film as well, along with a reference to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. And — almost out of necessity, given the nearly all-female cast — “Suspiria” is a deeply and complexly feminist film, full of yonic imagery and completely devoid of the species of simple, “Yay! Go women!” feminism of Hollywood films like “Ocean’s 8.”

While fans of Argento’s original “Suspiria” may miss his totalizing palette (although there are moments of it, especially in the climax of the film), they should not be disappointed in Guadagnino’s remake. Clocking in at nearly a full hour longer, the modern “Suspiria” expands in every possible way upon the original, adding intricacy and thematic depth that Argento’s version lacked. Argento’s “Suspiria” is rightfully a classic, but in his remake, Guadagnino has done far more with the same premise.

—Staff writer Ethan B. Reichsman can be reached at


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