Remaking a movie is always a fraught business, especially when the original model is as revered as Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo fever dream, Suspiria.
A key film in the giallo subgenre of lurid slashers, the original Suspiria followed a young ballet ingenue, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), who travels to Germany to study at a prestigious ballet academy, only to discover that the school is a front for a coven of bloodthirsty witches.
That is, more or less, the plot of Luca Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name) 2018 remake. Except Guadagnino’s film, which he struggled to mount for a good 30 years after acquiring the rights back in the day, revels in its differences as much as its similarities, wringing new and complex thematic material from the same basic narrative.
Set in Berlin in 1977, the year of the original film’s release, the 2018 Suspiria sees Dakota Johnson as Susie rather than Suzy, and like her predecessor she is newly arrived in Germany to study dance. The school she attends is also run by a coven of secretive, murderous witches. And that is where the parallels end.
Specific where Argento’s film is dreamlike, austere where it is lush, and pushing in many different directions at once, Guadagnino’s take defies easy summation. Various plot threads eventually cohere to give us a story about a power struggle within the coven, with Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc attempting to wrest power from the ancient and wizened Madame Markos (also Swinton under a ton of prosthetic make up), with Susie as the point on which their battle pivots.