Haunted houses are bad, but what’s really frightening is a haunted city.
The 2018 remake of Italian horror director Dario Argento’s
Suspiria—“six acts and an epilogue in divided Berlin”—shows a coven of bloodthirsty witches as just one cadre of plotters in a city riddled with them. It unfolds during the “German Autumn” of 1977, the era of the Red Army Faction, of kidnappers and terror bombings.
In the pre-titles to Luca Guadagnino’s remake, a patient bursts in on the aged German psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Tilda Swinton in one of multiple parts). The patient, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), has tales of persecution, claiming the instructors at her dance academy are witches, and are threatening to gut her. She leaves behind baffling notebooks filled with strange geometric patterns.
During the titles, a chilling D-minor waltz by Thom Yorke of Radiohead plays on what sounds like an imperfectly tuned dance studio rehearsal piano. We witness the last gasps of an Amish woman (Malgorzata Bela), mutely pleading for the end.
In Berlin, mere feet from the graffitied Wall, is a Brutalist performance hall, of streaky green marble and dingy curtains, called the Markos Tanzgruppe, where a new dancer, Susie (Dakota Johnson)—daughter of the dying woman we just saw—is moving into the dormitories to take Patricia’s place. The official story is that Patricia dropped out to join the bomb-throwing rebels.
If there is an alchemy in ballet—making the human body do what it normally can’t—it explains a favorite movie fantasy that choreographed beauty comes at a sacrifice. What if everything artists talks casually about, regarding the “ritual” in their art, were true?
The biggest idea in Argento’s 1977 original Suspiria was an Unholy Trinity of three mothers, older than the Fates, and that’s the most important carryover into this new version. As in the original, there are fantastically shocking images, but Suspiria is not completely morbid; the movie goes full-throatedly emotional in its last shot. It’s summer finally, and the camera pulls up to note the last relic of a love which has already been erased from life by witchcraft and history.
‘Suspiria’ is available to rent on Amazon.com.