Art in 6 Acts: Suspiria

My brother Corey and I caught Luca Guadagnino’s re-imagining of “Suspira”, Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo. A giallo is a genre of film that is Italian horror-thriller films. While I am a thriller film girl ‘til death, horror is another story. However, this film is arthouse for days, and I am a fan of Guadagnino for days as well, so covering my eyes at parts and allowing in some extreme witchcraft was par for the course. Here is Corey’s in-depth study. This film is in wide release for the Fall season.


Through every enthusiastic beginning, whether it be a friendship or the start of something more intimate, I've found myself letting out bits of my own extreme film geekery all the while trying to project a completely perceived and not at all existing balance between my cinephilic nerddom and some semblance of being a normal human being. At some point during this "honeymoon period" we'll call it, usually in between the cute courting phase and the acceptance that I'm a total psycho, I'll lead into the subject of my favorite film, Dario Argento's 1977 masterpiece Suspiria.

An evolution into supernatural territory from Argento's typical proto-slasher giallo work, Suspiria was bright, bloody, sensual, psychedelic, and completely batshit. It was where the arthouse met the grindhouse, with ruthless penetrative kills and gorgeous architectural cinematography existing within the same shot. It quickly gained cult status and spawned international interest in Italian horror as a stylistic alternative to American bloodbaths. 

Long thought to be sacred and untouchable in terms of adaptations, David Gordon Green (who eventually made his foray into horror this year with his Halloween sequel) signed on briefly to adapt Suspiria before leaving the project in pre-production and leaving the fate of the remake in limbo. Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, known for his emotionally dense dramas, most notably the recent queer romance Call Me By Your Name, took over the project after securing the rights many years before and writing a new script with frequent collaborator David Kajganich. Radiohead lead vocalist Thom Yorke signed on to write the score and the 2018 Suspiria was given a progressive limited release in October after a string of festival screenings. 

The most immediate noticable change in Guadagnino's remake is the color pallete. Gone are the acid-washed Technicolor primary colors of the original. This re-imagining goes for a muted wintery range of whites and grays with rustic green and burnt orange hues punctuating certain shots. Close-up shots on objects return in dream sequences in detailed disturbances but the majority of the drama opts for medium and wide camera work, often displaying full rooms in which action is taking place. Visually, the film recalls 70's European art directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pier Paulo Pasolini (who's Salo; or the 120 Days of Sodom is an increasing visual influence on modern film and art in general), and the controversial work of Ken Russell while synthesizing these influences into a distinct look and tone all the film's own. 

The script, which uses the original as a sort of outline, stays consistent with the classic Suspiria set-up of a German ballet academy while diving in much deeper to the dynamics of the coven and the political climate of Berlin in 1977. The aforementioned dream sequences and a poignant subplot involving an elderly psychotherapist mourning the mysterious death of his wife during the War flesh out the world of Guadagnino's re-imagining by placing the story firmly within the oppressive reality of the setting. 

With these extensive changes to the original and an emphasis on the more avant-garde aspects of Suspiria, it's definitely a completely new experience that may be difficult to tackle for fans of the original or horror fans looking for a traditional experience or stylistic giallo tribute to Argento's film. With this acknowledged, I loved it and, if one can forgive my blasphemy, possibly more than the source material. Even the dip in pacing in the middle portion of the film (I'd say 2nd act, but the film itself is split into six separate acts) didn't take away from the hypnotic and punishingly bleak experience. The graphic violence of the film is truly visceral and disturbing (at one point, a dancer has all of her bones broken and twisted in a Dorian Grey-esque routine that rivals anything in Eli Roth's filmography). The arthouse style serves to emphasize some of these harsher sequences instead of softening them, making for an even more unsettling experience. The acting is Oscar-level. Tilda Swinton's meta chameleon-like turn as three key characters serves to make the film even more cohesive and simultaneously disorienting and Dakota Johnson, who is making quite a name for herself as a formidable genre actress in her post-50 Shades career with a role in this year's Bad Times at the El Royale, is a mysterious and sensual Susie Bannion that is a complete foil to the doe-eyed final girl that is Jessica Harper's Susie from the original. Harper also appears in this film in a small yet emotionally satisfying (almost to a fault) cameo. 

Luca Guadagnino's reimagining of Dario Argento's Suspiria is a haunting, slow burn right into the inferno. Where the original stabbed you in the chest and threw you through a stained-glass ceiling piece, 2018's Suspiria seeps under your skin until it's crawling itself down into the catacombs of deep, primal fears. When future band-mates, fellow geeks, and prospective girlfriends are cornered into my labyrinthian love for strange cinema, they will continue to hear of Suspiria and the multiple masterpieces that share it's name.