Clear your schedule and go see Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018). Get plenty of sleep the night before. It’s not the phone-it-in sort of movie.
It takes the premise (but little else) from the 1977 original by Dario Argento. A celebrated dance academy in Germany secretly houses a coven of witches in the worship one of Our Ladies of Sorrow from Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis, Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs. But the action takes place in Berlin, not in Freiburg, as it did in the Argento movie. And not just Berlin, but Bowie’s Berlin, back when it came in West and East. The Berlin Wall is across the street from the academy, in case the setting isn’t bleak enough.
Tilda Swinton, the only triplicate goddess I shall honor henceforth, pushes her legend to the outer reaches by taking on three separate roles: Madame Blanc—one—the imperious former prima ballerina of the company, who has just mounted an unsuccessful attempt to take over leadership of the coven from the deformed, disease-ridden Madame Markos—two—in a political spat that’s quietly turning into a schism and drawing the unwelcome attention of outsider psychologist Dr. Josef Klemperer—three. This is next-level high science in The White Goddess mode. It’s like her performance is itself an act of sorcery, and I don’t mean the movie magic kind. If weird things start happening, you’ll know that it was.
The music is by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and it’s perfectly serviceable as movie soundtrack. If you haven’t seen the original Suspiria, you likely won’t think twice about it. But if you have seen the original, you already understand just how integral the thundering score from the Italian prog rock band Goblin is. It’s an essential component of the experience. There’s no parallel here, and that’s unforgivable. Thom Yorke puts across murky and drowned as well as anyone working today. If you want bare melodies and brittle vocals, look no further. You’ve found your guy. But he doesn’t overthrow your senses, and he doesn’t once utter, “Witch, witch!” like the boys in Goblin do to help the audience remember what movie they’re watching. Remaking Suspiria is like killing a king. You get one shot, and it’s got to count. And you need to contend with the entire production, not just the easy parts, like the story synopsis. Leave the mandolin in the seventies if you want. I don’t need talking drums or celestas. It’s the decibels that I’m missing here, the outward projection instead of the inward.
That one criticism aside, Suspiria is an exquisite piece of horror. It takes two hours to build to its climax, and when it breaks, the screen runs red.