Back in 1977 the original “Suspiria” was released by Dario Argento, it was a stylised nightmare of a horror film based on the use of something so self indulgent (ballet) to feed an evil coven of witches, the cinematography was garishly coloured, the music by Goblin dramatic and the story line never truly explained. It was gruesome, crazy and beautiful and I loved that film.
So naturally when I saw that they had remade it in 2018, I immediately dismissed the remake, as I was pretty sure that nothing could live up to this weirdly beautiful film that I had witnessed growing up.
After being involved in a few discussions, I was persuaded differently and decided to give it a whirl on the premise of the remake being completely nuts.
Recreated by Luca Guadagnino, this film shows flickers of Argento’s original film, but it has added so much more, and harps back to the original roots of where the idea first stemmed from (a book of essays by Thomas D’Quincy called Suspiria Profundis).
There has to be some credit to the bizarre and haunting film score put together by Thom Yorke, which just adds a further layer of complexity to the intense screen time.
As always, there are spoilers, but on this occasion you might be thankful for them, as the ending takes some getting your head around and it is really easy to miss bits within the film as the language switches between English, German and French at a lighting pace at times, which can mean you miss some of the intentions. By all means, come back to me when you have watched this and let me know what you thought, but for now settle down for one of my (inevitably long) breakdowns of what this film was all about.
The film starts with a girl bursting in to a doctors office, singing a peculiar song and seemingly on the brink of a complete breakdown. She talks of people controlling her mind and taking her urine, and demonstrates the symptoms of paranoia. Leaving her bag with the doctor she leaves as he says that she is delusional.
Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in Berlin during the peak of German Autumn (a time when a series of events in late 1977 associated with the kidnapping and murder of industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer, president of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations). She finds her way to the Tanz Dance School and auditions, and achieves a place despite having no formal training. The dance used within this film is in direct opposition to the original film a this is more like progressive dance (think of a Sia music video).
During her audition, many odd German women stand around watching, one being Madam Blanc (Tilda Swinton) who is the schools artist director and lead dance mistress. She is, the epitome of what you would expect from a dance teacher, mostly dressed in black and chain smokes.
Susie is moved in to the Tanz school and her moving in, just so happens to coincide with the disappearance of a girl called Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) who was the “delusional” girl in the doctor’s office at the start. The Doctor Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton although credited as Lutz Ebersdorf) was her psychiatrist and he holds her journals which state that the academy matrons are witches lead by 3 mothers – Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mater Suspiriorum.
I feel I need to break out of the film synopsis here to explain Tenebrarum, Lachrymarum and Suspiriorum as these are essays with D’Quincy’s book and the basis for the Argento trilogy. Tenebrarum is Our Lady of Darkness and the defier of Gods, Lachrymarum is Our Lady of Tears and calls for vanished faces and finally Suspiriorum Our Lady of Signs – she is the strongest of the mothers and is filled with perishing dreams and wrecks of forgotten delirium. This might all seem a bit heavy for this point of this article, but it is important for the understanding of the relationships at the end of the film.
Back to the plot… Susie makes friends with the wealthy Sara (Mia Goth), and she starts to attract the attention of Madam Blanc in dance practice, especially when another classmate – Olga (Elena Forkina) who was a friend of Patricia’s accuses Madam Blanc of removing Patricia, and Susie who has never danced the lead in anything puts herself forward to dance the lead in Olga’s place.
The next scene is mesmerisingly gruesome. Madam Blanc touches Susie hands and feet and small lights appear in them. Olga stumbles in to a mirrored room as she tries to leave the school, which once the door closes there is no obvious way out. As Susie dances, Olga is thrown around the room in a direct correlation of the dance moves, contorting her body and breaking her bones in some artistic and disturbing dance of death. As the energy drains from Susie and she collapses, Olga is left in the room, basically tied in a knot in a pool of her own blood and urine. Susie is sent to rest for the remainder of the day as the schools help pierce Olga’s body with what looks like silver rib bones/meat hooks and drag her off to an unseen room.
After this disturbing display, there is a vote among the coven as to who should rule. This scene takes place in German, the vote is between Mother Markos, a yet to be seen ageing witch who has ruled the coven for a while or Madam Blanc. Markos wins the vote, and the coven start to conspire to to use Susie’s body as the host for the old witch so that she can have a new body.
At points in this, Susie’s past is revealed as we see her ageing mother (Małgosia Bela) dying on a bed. It would transpire that Susie was a Mennonite, and deemed a sin by her mother as one that would not follow the flock. There are repetitive flash backs of farm life, punishment of young Susie and traumatic images of being locked in a cupboard.
Susie rapidly climbs the dance school ladder, and becomes the protege of Madam Blanc. This earns her the lead position in the new production that they are working on called Volk (which means people in an uncountable number or an ethnic group or nation). As Madam Blanc and Susie forge a bond, Dr Josef Klemperer becomes suspicious of the matrons and goes to talk to Sara. Showing her Patricia’s journal, Sara initially thinks that Klemperer is talking nonsense and leaves, but only after he has described the mirrored room.
Later Sara goes to find the mirrored room, and searches out the hidden door. Managing to open it, on the wall within is a picture of Mother Markos with Madam Blanc, and display cabinets filled with porcelain figures depicting acts of witchery. She hears some pained screams and retreats. Going back to Klemperer she takes one of the silver ribs as proof of her discovery.
Klemperer takes the rib from her, saying she shouldn’t be travelling with it, and they conspire to out the witches when they have more proof. Sara returns and tries to talk to Susie about it, who says that there is nothing wrong in the school and Sara is paranoid.
As they prepare for the opening of Volk, Sara wonders off down a corridor as if she can hear Patricia calling her, but the Matrons discover her and form holes in the floor, which Sara falls in to snapping the bone in her shin.
Susie and her other class mates go on and start the performance to Susie’s dismay at Sara’s absence, but the Matrons “heal” Sara’s leg and throw her in to the performance in some trance like state.
The dance here is stylised, all in unison as the girls move as if some pulsing organism, until Susie breaks the choreography which ends in Sara stepping out and “breaking a leg”. Klemperer who is in the audience, looks on disturbed as Sara is carried out.
Klemperer returns and disposes of Patricia’s journals in a duffel bag in to the river, as well as the silver rib, and returns to his home, seeing his long lost wife Anke who disappeared during the war. Anke leads Klemperer back to the dance school and the matrons ambush him, taking him in to a witches sabbath as a witness.
Susie is then led to the hidden room, finding Mother Markos, Madam Blanc, Patricia, and entranced Sara who is promptly disembowelled and a rafter of what I can only assume is missing girls and the matrons performing the sabbath, which is in sync to the dancing which happened earlier in Volk.
Susie acknowledges what is going on and says that she is ready to become the vessel for Mother Markos. Madam Blanc tries to talk her out of it, but Mother Markos decapitates her with her witchy powers. Susie approaches Mother Markos, and it all of a sudden becomes apparent that Susie is not the mild mannered shunned Mennonite girl that everyone thought she was. As she is asked to reject her actual mother, she reveals herself as Mater Suspiriorum who Mother Markos has been pretending to be.
Now in her rightful role, Mater Suspiriorum calls an incarnation of death, who kills Mother Markos, and all those who voted her in to rule the coven, by making their heads explode. Mater Suspiriorum visits the 3 girls Patricia, Olga and Sara in the room and offers them anything they want for their sacrifice, all request death, which is probably a pretty good option as they are all in pretty bad shape.
On killing all the false coven, Mater Suspiriorum has regained rightful control of the coven and order is restored. This scene is intense and uses the heavy filters of colour that you would have seen in the original Argento film. The movements of those involved in the sabbath are disturbing and potentially difficult to watch.
Klemperer is then released, left to wonder home, and takes to his bed, disturbed by what what he has seen.
What I have failed to point out all the way through is that this film is broken into acts, potentially as a small homage to Brecht, who was a theatre practitioner and has a founding theatre in Berlin. The acts are labelled to the sequence of events to each section of the film, and of course there is an epilogue.
The epilogue shows Klemperer in bed, being served by his housekeeper, when Susie (now the big M.S.) shows up for a visit. She explains to him about how his wife died in a concentration camp as she tried to escape during the war. She was with 2 women, and her last thoughts were of him. I can only assume that the two women that she died with where from a coven. Klemperer, emotionally torn with this information on top of what is has just witnessed is distraught. Suspiriorum grants Klemperer a kindness as she understands that he was caught in the cross fire of the previous coven and she wipes his memory of all women who have caused him pain (remember my little bit about D’Quincy’s essays and the meanings of the 3 mothers… Well she removed his perished dreams and wrecked delirium). This seems extensive to all women in his life, as when the witch vanishes and his house keeper comes in to find him fitting in the bed, as he comes around, he doesn’t recognise her.
Now, there are great chunks I have missed out of this, like I have not even started to look at the cold war influences on this film and how that interacts with the plot, but there is a very definite link between the witches and the actions of German Autumn as it is used as an excuse for the disappearance of Patricia, it also has a continuous undertone throughout the film as though the witches are fighting their own cold war within the coven with the dispute between Mother Markos and Madam Blanc replicating what is happening out in the real world.
I have also missed out the seemingly meaningless, but maybe most awkward character of Miss Griffith, a bookish looking coven member, who perhaps stands for how corrupt the coven was, and how anyone who went against it’s wishes was left isolated. She is constantly shown looking pained and anguished, alone on the sidelines of the coven. She commits suicide during one of the coven meetings in a spectacular way, grabbing a knife from the table and repetitively stabbing herself in the neck. This reaches its pinnacle the same time as Susie is experiencing intense and distressing dreams – prior to revealing herself as the true coven ruler. This character may seem confusing while you watch the film as her isolation and anguish is never explained, rather leaving you to make your own conclusion to her purpose.
There are small homages to Argento’s original film, patches of colour and filters are used to indicate the witches presence which just adds to the creepiness of the film.
The sets are definitely claustrophobic and very well thought out to give the viewer the feel that everyone is on top of each other within the dance school, from the tiles on the floor, the narrow corridors and over cluttered kitchen to the off beat camera angles and dark filming style.
There is some potential that there is also a feminist undertone as men are certainly not treated kindly in this film, and all the girls are pushed to a point that they feel it necessary to move and act as one, much like we see in real life where peer pressure pushes women to be conformist to what the media thinks everyone should look like, but it was a real undercurrent theme for me.
On watching this, I don’t think I change my stance at all, I still love the original film, and actually I was a little disappointed with the ending of this one, until I really sat and thought about it, but on reflection, I actually really quite like it now.
I would say this is certainly worth a watch if you like films of a bizarre nature as this will tick the boxes for you, but I am upset that the room of razor wire didn’t feature in the remake.
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