Suspiria: A Postmodern Classic out of a Modern Classic

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There’s a telling moment in Suspiria’s 2nd act where the invisible line that connects the film to its predecessor seems to be severed – the iconic sequence wherein Olga is savagely destroyed by Susie’s prowess as a dancer, by way of witchcraft. The sequence boasts of the nightmarish giallo bloodlust of the 1977 original, but tonally, the violence doesn’t have the raw cathartic energy of it. The sequence as a spectacle is coldly executed, calculated the way a dancer or camera moves, and creeps under a person’s skin rather than cutting into it, in terms of the bluntness of its horror. These key differences are what make Suspiria 2018 an entirely different beast from its mother, Suspiria 1977 – and the brilliant changes made to the tale work on both narratively enriching and meta levels.

Luca Guadagnino, the director (who was last known for directing Call Me By Your Name, making his choice to direct this remake a turn), believed that his rendition of Suspiria wasn’t an exact remake, but rather a homage to the original and the feelings seeing it incited in him when he was younger. This explains key differences in the styles and atmospheres of both films – Most notably, Suspiria ’77 was shot, filtered, and edited to be as raw and colorful as possible, with an equally overwhelming metal score, while Suspiria ’18 is devoid of any warm or characteresque color, and scored with a somber, primal electronic sound. the He adds to this reimagining several contextual elements that enrich and frame the original story in a more throught-provoking light: the sociopolitical backdrop of Germany’s division (mirrored in that of the school’s matrons), the idea of past trauma shaping or driving a person or an institution (something Dr. Klemperer’s subplot revolves around), as well as the twist that forces viewers to question the film in its entirety in relation to Susie’s status as a meek ingenue.

Both films follow the skeleton of a young dancer (Suzy/Susie) joining a school of dance (Ballet in the original, Modern/Interpretive in the remake) only to find that the school is run by a coven of witches (hag-like as in fairytales in 1977, and unsettlingly realistic and bureaucratic in 2018). What’s refreshing in this update is that the stitches between witchcraft and dance are sewn tighter and are stronger in relation to advancing the plot. Whereas the original Suspiria used the dance school as a front for the evil underneath, this version makes it clear that, in the context of the central coven, dance is witchcraft, whether the girls performing know it or not (as Patricia, then Olga, then Sara, unfortunately find out), with the acts of choreography they work to perfect connecting them to a greater power, the earth they take their strength from, and their own capabilities as women and witches.

Guadagnino’s thematically rich, non-exploitative look at a coven of witches as a microcosm of sociopolitical divisions and how people look to violent, powerful figures for stability doesn’t sound like the Suspiria anyone under 20 grew up with. But his hijacking of a horror story from recent history and inoculating it with a realistic, social horror within reach is what makes Suspiria (2018) the kind of horror film audiences today look to for a satisfying representation of these similarly chaotic times, in the same manner any of the women victimized by the film looked to the revealed Mother Suspiriorum – for justice, or for rest.

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