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Film Review: Suspiria

Suspiria is what happens when you mix witchcraft and dancing in Berlin.

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth

The 2018 version of Suspiria is an American remake of a 1977 Italian Giallo film. Giallo is an Italian genre in literature and film seen as a predecessor to the American slasher genre. The remake follows an American girl named Susie, who moves from Ohio to Berlin in hopes of joining the Markos dance company. Susie has no references or training in ballet, yet the company decides to take her in, as another dancer has run away. In reality, the dance company is run by witches, who have nefarious plans for their students.  

There are a few key story differences between the two versions. The Italian version follows a much younger Susie already enroled in a dance academy, whereas the American remake follows a slightly older Susie looking to join a dance academy. The remake also builds on the Italian version’s mythos and explanations of the coven. The American remake does not use the haunting ear-worm that is the Goblin soundtrack from the 1977 version. Instead, they opt for laboured breathing from the dancers.

Compared to the original, the remake is darker, not only in the level of gore, but also colour. While the 1977 film was filled with bright primary colours, this remake is gritty and muted. This creates a direct contrast between the two, and a viewer will not be likely to mix them up.

An interesting motif of motherhood is carefully woven through the film by the interactions between female characters. The relationship between Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and Susie (Dakota Johnson) could be seen as a teacher-student one or a surrogate mother-daughter relationship. The character who leads the coven of witches is called Mother Markos, and the coven is revealed to worship The Three Mothers, a trio of ancient witches.

The film takes place in Berlin and has French, German, and English casually spoken throughout. This is a movie that has subtitles, though there are clear stylistic choices in their usage. The subtitles are red when German is spoken, blue when French is spoken, and non-existent when English is spoken. I found tiny details like this make the film interesting to watch more than once.

In the end, Suspiria was too long. Once you know the ending, you start to question why it took them so long to get there. There are subplots and certain scenes which add mystery and intrigue, such as the subplot to explain the disappearance of Dr Jozef Klemperer’s wife, Anke, and to answer the haunting question of whether or not she escaped the Nazis. However, it does not impact the main plot and protagonist. There are also mentions of the RAF (Red Army Faction), and the hijacking of a Lufthansa flight. Even though moments like this add more context, as the film is set in 1977, it feels like so much could have been shaved off.

Overall, Suspiria follows the golden rule: any movie that has been remade, it’s better to watch the original.

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