1 Nov

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The remake of Dario Argento’s cultish 1977 European gothic steeped in the gory dealings of the occult operating within secret passages of a German school of ballet, gets handled with great care and extra visceral crunch by fellow Italian countryman, Luca Guadagnino. Guadagnino, regarded for his subtle nuanced human inflections in such critically well-received works as “Call Me by Your Name” and “A Bigger Splash” delves into the aural moodiness of the horror genre with bloody aplomb. Here he and writer David Kajganich take it deeper than Argento did in his witch trilogy (“inferno” in 1980 and 2007’s “Mother of Tears” starring his now infamous daughter, Asia) by adding human layers, deeper suspenseful intrigue and allowing Tilda Swinton to play multiple roles, including an elder gentleman who has scenes of full-frontal nudity (no penile prosthetics were hurt in the making of this film).

The setting is inspired as well. It’s 1977, the same year as Argento’s signature work made it onto screens, and in West Berlin as news on boxy TVs tell us the Red Army and Baader-Meinhof gang are in full swing, let alone the looming strong arm of the Iron Curtain and Cold War in dark corners. In short, anyone can go missing at anytime and there’s a myriad of possible culprits, the least obvious being a covenant of witches. At the onset we catch up with a harried young American woman named Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) who tells an elderly physician (Swinton as that ) that she’s pretty sure the ballet school she’s attending is run by witches. Shortly after Patricia goes missing and Dr. Klemperer wrestling with his own personal daemons that root back to the Holocaust begins to poke around and alert the police to strange doings.

Meanwhile (and there is a lot here, the film is over two and a half hours long) the school receives a new American recruit who can dance like Salome. This pleases troupe grand dame Madame Blanc (a chain smoking Swinton in her most recognizable countenance), plus the new girl Susie (Dakota Johnson fresh off “Bad Times at the El Royale) is all alone in the world after cutting ties with her controlling Mennonite kin back in Ohio. Besides being a promising dancer, Susie may also be the one to bear the great darkness of the covenant’s ancestry. The mumbo-jumbo here doesn’t matter so much as Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is more about ominous intrusions, eerie and immersive, and slow painful deaths that will make even the strongest wince while the ladies dishing out the meting from floors below cackle with glee. It’s an intoxicating brew right up to the gonzo Grand Guignol where the use of red gauzy filters help ameliorate the unrelenting gush of arterial spray.

Guadagnino has stated that he’s been wanting to make this “cover version” since he was twelve. It’s unlikely that such a project (20 million) with such a cast (and the performances are spot on around the horn) and Radio Head’s Thom Yorke lending his talents would ever gain a green light without such an accomplished auteur behind it. As is, it doesn’t have the campy cult edge of Argento’s earlier effort, but it is a potent time capsule of an era that seems farther away in history than it actually is. It’s also something of a feminist anthem as well. Those that run the Helena Markos School have absolute control of all within their cloistered realm. It’s a very safe place for a women if you’re one of the indoctrinated and a chamber of horrors if you’re not. Men for the most are mere bothers and only worthy to serve as witness. It’s the mother here that’s all powerful. Argento tagged his century-spanning witch-mythos successions “The Three Mothers” trilogy. Guadagnino on the other hand tackles his triumvirate via Swinton, who as usual is all in. “Suspiria”’s definitely not for all. Fans of Swinton, art house horror (think “The Witch” and “Heredity”) and the original, will swoon, those coming to see the film because of Guadagnino‘s earlier works, will be in for a bloody shock.

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