Suspiria may be an unlikely follow-up to Luca Guadagnino's Oscar-nominated masterpiece Call Me By Your Name, but it's a film that the director has been dreaming about for years. Thirty-three years in fact, ever since he first saw the 1977 Italian horror film as a teenager. This is, Guadagnino told Refinery29 on a recent phone call, the first and only time a film has stuck with him like this — haunted him, really — in his lifetime.
"I was 14. It was a mid-week evening, and the movie was being played on Italian International TV," Guadagnino said, reflecting on that life-changing hour. "It was a magic screening that I gave the pleasure of to myself. I saw it alone, which is almost a forbidden thing to do, and I remember watching that film and being completely shocked by the freedom of the film, by its beauty, and by its aggression to the senses. I wanted to enact again this emotion. It became a part of my being, wanting to make this film."
In the time between Guadagnino's initial viewing of Dario Argento's 1977 original Italian horror film and his 2018 totally reimagined remake, Suspiria would become a cult classic for horror fanatics, even spurring a trilogy for Argento (something Guadagnino is also familiar with, having deemed I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, and Call Me By Your Name his spiritual trilogy about desire), which also correlates with the three women — actually three Mothers — at the heart of the films. But, excluding a few of the central character's names and roles, that is where the similarities between the versions of Suspiria end.
The stark differences between the two, from the color palette to the soundtrack to the climax, are all intentional. Instead of the movie one might expect, Guadagnino created a twisted dark romance and story of motherhood and manipulation under the guise as a horror film. As Refinery29's film critic writes, it's the only conversation about witch hunts we should be having in 2018.
It is a movie about the power within a group of women, and the power of women.
At the center of the story is Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), an American dancer from Ohio who is accepted into a prestigious Berlin dance academy, Markos Dance Company, run by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), an intoxicating figure who becomes a sort-of mentor to the newest member of her dance coven. To keep spoilers at a minimum (at the direct wishes of Guadagnino who, when asked about Susie and Blanc's relationship, told Refinery29, "This is really for the audience to make up their mind. I would be a disgraced filmmaker if I gave my own interpretation of the film"), there won't be any details about the film's core arc, but I will tell you that one dance-torture scene is so fucking crazy, oozy, and yucky that I wanted to close my ears, not my eyes, as to not miss a moment of the dance. The scene is gory, yet still somehow beautiful. "It shows what violence does to people," Guadagnino said, when asked about the noises heard during the scene. "We literally took [those noises] by the horns, and made it big."
Told in six acts, Guadagnino's Suspiria has also eliminated men from the story — which is "completely, totally" on purpose — with the exception of one kind, curious, and mournful Dr. Josef Klemperer, played by "German actor " Lutz Ebersdorf, an unknown man who was revealed to be Swinton in full special effect makeup, down to a prosthetic penis. "He is challenging himself and his rationality in trying to try to decipher the irrationality all around him," Guadagnino noted. Klemperer's an outsider, trying to figure out what is happening within the walls of the Markos Dance Company after one of the dancers, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) confides in him that she believes the Madams are actually witches. "Because it is a movie about the power within a group of women and the power of women, the juxtaposition was very even." the director said of Klemperer's role as the sole male lead in the film, adding, "[But] even the professor is played by a woman because I thought this is really a feminine film."
Femininity and fear is not a new formula in the horror movie genre, but the strength and power of feminine energy — so powerful a witch coven is formed — has never before been utilized in such an intense and invigorating way. But this is just Luca Guadagnino's style. Anyone who is familiar with his other deeply moving and meaningful portraits of relationships, power, and desire will find traces throughout the film, in-between the blood splatter on the dance studio's walls. The final touch in Suspiria is another signature of the Italian director's: A soundtrack that doesn't just support the narrative, but demands the audience's attention. For this, Guadagnino teamed up with Radiohead's Thom Yorke (like Suspiria, this was another idea he had long been transfixed on.) "I always thought that Thom Yorke was the only one who able to do the soundtrack for this film," he explained. "I was very lucky when he said yes, and I was very proud of the process of working together in this. It took us a year to articulate the soundtrack in this very deep and wide melancholic way."
Suspiria hits theaters select October 26, nationwide November 2.