Suspiria review: 'At times beautiful, at others grotesque, it's ultimately superficial'
Sicilian writer/director Luca Guadagnino is among the leading lights of contemporary Italian cinema, the author of such stylish and starkly individualistic dramas as I Am Love and Call Me By Your Name, which won an Oscar last year. He takes risks, which don't always come off, but the results are always interesting: Suspiria is no exception.
It is, in one sense, a remake, of a moody 1977 Dario Argento horror film, whose star, Jessica Harper, makes a brief cameo here. It's Dakota Johnson (of 50 Shades fame, but let's not hold that against her) who heads up this production, playing Susie Bannon, a young American dancer who comes to West Berlin in the late 1970s to audition for a prestigious dance company. The Markos Company is run by a legendary former dancer, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), an elegant, stately female who'll accept nothing less than excellence. She thinks she's found it in Susie, who hails from an Ohio community of Mennonites and has no apparent experience but delivers an electrifying audition. She's accepted and moves into the company's old building. But meanwhile, one of the other dancers has gone missing, and it's not long before Susie suspects something is amiss. It's witchcraft, folks, and nasty things lurk in the basement.
For the most part, Suspiria is beautifully put together, wreathed in shadows, charged with looming dread. It sucks you in, and a series of darkly erotic dance sequences promise the unfolding of a truly special film. But it never materialises, and after an auspicious start, Suspiria descends into lurid Guignol. Miss Swinton plays several roles, including an elderly male psychiatrist, but that seems like a meaningless gimmick, and the story's underlying themes of unleashed feminine power and sexuality are only fitfully explored.
At times beautiful, at others grotesque, it's ultimately superficial.