It’s taken me nearly two years, but I think I’m almost ready to put down some words to the masterpiece that is Suspiria. And I do mean, the 2018 version. Because yes, it is the superior version.
Please don’t @ me or send any pitchforks to our (e-mail) address. Read what I have to say before you do, and then do what you think you must.
In 1977, Dario Argento unleashed a seminal piece of work. One that seems to be forever tied to his name. Even if most recently Twitter began talking about how his films Opera or Phenomena are the better films (I for one, adore Opera) but no matter what, it’s as if his name will forever be synonymous with Suspiria. And with great reason.
When you mention the film to most people, they usually respond highly in regards to two things: the music, and the cinematography. So let’s get this out of the way, both things are drastically different in Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece. Thom Yorke’s music is haunting, otherworldly and couldn’t be farther removed from Goblin’s big, bombastic score. And on top of that, the colour usage in Argento’s film is frankly, to die for. With Luca’s version, he opted out of the neon colours and substituted for a lot more of muted grey’s. This offended some, but for me, it was almost welcoming. A lot of arguments surrounding remakes / reboots / rewhatevers is that the original still exists and this doesn’t negate the excellent work that laid the foundation for the new property. By converting all the colours into a lot more muted colours, Luca made the decision that he couldn’t compete with Argento’s vision, so he wasn’t going to try. In Luca’s Suspiria, the film takes place in 1977’s Berlin, where it is cold, and you can feel the coldness in the frame.
As the film takes place in 1977, it feels of the time as well. There are stylistic choices in the way that they would crash zoom (or snap zoom), or even the always beautiful split diopter shots. Having the film take place in Berlin at this time is so much crucial to the plot compared to Argento’s film. The story in Argento’s version is always muddled in my mind. I revisited the original for this article because even though I’ve seen it many times, I mostly remember the deaths rather than the story. For one, it’s kept hidden as a reveal that the dance academy is a coven, and Helena Markos is in control of everyone. In 2018’s version, very early on, we are aware that they are witches. It doesn’t make you wait, which is good considering that Luca’s film is 153 minutes long (a run time that I have yet to feel). In fact, the film opens with Chloë Grace Moretz’ character Patricia telling Dr. Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, in one of three roles) that the teachers at the academy are witches.
Enter Susie (Dakota Johnson) who shows up, and performs an audition that magically brings Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton in role number two) into the room. There’s a connection, and a powerful one that even as a viewer, you can sense it. And then, Susie becomes a massive protege who also has her unknowingly (maybe), brutally harming fellow student Olga (Elena Fokina). The scene in which Olga mirrors what Susie is doing, while being surrounded by mirrors – just might be an all-timer. The scene was the first footage to be seen by a form of the public at CinemaCon about 6 months prior to its wide release. They presented the scene during a luncheon, and it was so intense that it traumatized some of the audience. Reading this back in April of 2018, excited me in ways that seem unhealthy in retrospect.
As the film progresses, there are moments that mirror one another, or the plot at least. And then just like the music, or the visuals, the film goes in opposite directions. Instead of Susie (2018 version) killing Helena Markos (Tilda Swinton, in her third role) like Suzy (1977 version) did, thus causing the entire building to fall apart and self-destruct, Susie takes over the school. Mother Markos is Mother Suspiriorum (Mother of Sighs) in 1977, but in 2018, it’s Susie. It always was Susie. And Susie unleashes death – and it is fucking mesmerizing. In a truly bonkers scene that even improves on the Olga mirror sequence, Death has been summoned and doesn’t leave any survivors.
In fact, there are lots of uses regarding mirrors, constantly shooting one sequence before revealing the audience is looking at a mirror. It’s a constant misdirect, to keep us on our toes. Especially regarding Susie.
Like I previously stated, the film expands and gives so much more to the original plot of Suspiria. But in retrospect, Luca gave context to what it meant to be in Berlin in 1977, and made the dance academy feel more alive, almost like a character. Luca also said the film was about motherhood. In fact, smarter people have already wrote about this film way more eloquently than I could possibly do.
There’s nothing truly wrong with the 1977 version of Suspiria. It’s a brisk 100 minute film in which I don’t always need to pay attention, but the music and the vibrant colours will keep me glued to the screen. Surprise appearances by Udo Kier, maggots and a lot of death is also enticing. But Luca took what could have been a very unnecessary remake, and expanded on all the lore that already was there, as well it made it feel modern. Even if the film stylistically lives in 1977 as well. Dakota Johnson is just as captivating as Jessica Harper. Together, Susie and Suzy reign victorious, but in different ways. Harper’s Suzy stumbles upon a coven of witches and saves the day, and then Johnson’s Susie is destined to appear in front of Helena Markos and literally summon Death, but yet, still shows compassion and mercy. I will bow down in front of Johnson’s Mother Suspiriorum any day of the week.