Reel Talk

Suspiria and the Sins of the Past

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In general I’m not one to get bent out of shape at the concept of remakes. Yeah, most remakes aren’t able to top the quality of the original film, but I’ve never understood the mentality of taking a remake as some sort of affront to the legacy of the original film. A lot of remakes are pretty soulless excuses to make money off of the back of the older movie, but every now and then you come across a remake that has more artistic intentions. Because sometimes we get a filmmaker who just loves an older movie with all of their heart, and wants to bring a fresh take to the story, giving us a new adaptation that certainly doesn’t intend to replace the original, but stand next to it. And, we’ve been given one of these rarer kinds or remakes this year with Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. Now, I’m not exactly sure why after the success of Call Me By Your Name last year Guadagnino decided to make his next project an utterly terrifying remake of one of the weirdest and most beloved horror films of all time, but I’m incredibly glad he did. I love Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and was kind of wary that any remake would be able to capture the magic of it. But Guadagnino managed to knock it out of the park and deliver us one of the finest horror films I’ve seen in ages.

Suspiria takes place in West Berlin in 1977 when a young Amish woman from Ohio named Susie Bannion arrives at the Markos Dance Academy, one of the most prestigious dance studios in the world. She intends to be accepted into the Academy, and ends up delivering a wonderful audition that immediately gains her access. It also doesn’t help that the star dancer of the troupe, Patricia Hingle, has just vanished from the academy after having a nervous breakdown, possibly to join a group of West Berlin terrorists. Susie then gets introduced to the other girls that live and dance in the Academy, and sees that things are rather tense. People are concerned over Patricia’s disappearance, especially because she started to become convinced that the women who run the Academy are actually a coven of witches. And this really boils over when the second best dancer, Olga, starts yelling at the lead choreographer Madame Blanc. She flees from the room just as Susie volunteers to try and dance the lead in this complicated show. But, as Susie starts dancing better than anyone could have imagined, her every movement starts to attack Olga as she’s lured into a room surrounded by mirrors, eventually killing her. But, none of the other dancers are aware of that, and they go on with life as normal as Susie begins rising in the ranks of the dancers, getting special attention from Madame Blanc.

But, while all of this is going on, another of the dancer, a woman named Sara, is approached by a psychologist named Josef Klemperer who had been working with Patricia. He initially ignored her claims that the women who run Markos were witches, but he’s become terrified that it’s the truth. He asks Sara to help him, and after initially blowing him off, she decides to investigate. And, sure enough, she comes across a secret room full of strange artifacts and hears some of the women in charge of the studio speaking about the coven. She fills Klemperer in one everything, and he decides to attend the studio’s next performance to scope out the building. However, as the show is about to begin Sara heads back down into the secret area of the building, and encounters the forms of Patricia and Olga, being kept alive by some sort of magic. She flees, and in the process breaks her leg, causing her to be caught by the witches. They then force Sara’s body to perform the dance, until Susie throws everything off by noticing something is wrong with her friend. But, the show goes more or less okay, and the girls are all taken out to a celebratory dinner, while some of the other witches go kidnap Klemperer and bring him back to the studio. And, that night things really get insane. Susie is brought down into the secret area of the building by Madame Blanc, and shown that a special ceremony is going on. The leader of the coven, a woman named Helena Markos, is there and is planning on moving her consciousness into Susie, while the other girls are hypnotically dancing and providing magical energy. Markos claims to be a massively powerful magical entity known as Mother Suspiriorum, and ends up almost killing Madame Blanc when she shows some hesitance at destroying Susie. But, things aren’t as they seem, because Susie then reveals that she’s actually the new Mother Suspiriorum, and she’s come to the studio to claim the coven. She kills Markos and all the witches loyal to her, starting a new coven with her as the head.

 

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Over the last few years we’ve been given an incredible surge in high quality horror movies, delivering modern classic after modern classic. And, to my delight, we’ve gotten yet another fantastic entry to this growing mountain of amazing horror films. Like I said, it can feel a little weird to think of this as the followup to Call Me By Your Name, but it really ends up proving what amazing range Guadagnino has as a director. Because this movie a down-right masterpiece. The original Suspiria is also a masterpiece, full of vibrant color, insane visuals, and a nightmarish horror that has helped it become the beloved classic it is today. And, when it was announced that it was going to be remade the obvious questions became “how different are they going to make it?” And, it ended up being pretty damn different. The film is simultaneously more subdued and insane than the first, putting it in a far more grounded and darkly realistic world while doubling down on all the magic and witchcraft, filling the film with incredibly visceral and terrifying horror, all while giving us an utterly fascinating backdrop.

Suspiria is a wonderful film, full of terror, and builds it’s own elaborate mythology while jumping off of Argento’s whole twisted career. And yet, under all of that supernatural horror is a story set in a world I’ve never quite thought of. It’s West Berlin in the late-seventies, when a generation of people are coming of age and having to reconcile with the fact that their parent’s generation were active participants in Nazi Germany. Dr. Klemperer’s whole story hits this idea, showing him as a hollow shell, drifting through life after having not done enough to save his wife from the Holocaust. His past sins and failures dominate his life, causing him to stick his neck out and try to save these girls after not believing Patricia’s story, just like he didn’t believe his wife’s fears. The larger plot, with the drama between the coven and the true identity of Mother Susperiorum is enthralling enough, but by placing that fantastical story in some real-world horror ends up blending in a beautiful way that helped push this film from a visually-sumptuous horror film to the masterpiece it is.

 

Suspiria was written by David Kajganich, directed by Luca Guadagnino, and released by Amazon Studios, 2018.

 

 

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