THERE comes a time, just before the two hour mark, you have to stop trying to eke out logic from Suspiria and go with the sensory experience of this striking film.
There’s a lot of symbolism scattered throughout the terrifying corridors of the Tanz Dance Academy, ideas about war guilt, motherhood, why accusations of witchcraft remain so potent, terrorism, matriarchy versus patriarchy and body horror.
But the most effective apart of Luca Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name, A Bigger Splash) remake/tribute to Dario Argento’s horror classic is how it makes you feel — repulsed, tantalised, curious, uncomfortable and, above all, so bloody tense.
It’s a visually vivid and incredibly visceral experience, one you have to give into.
American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in Berlin to audition for a prestigious dance school, run a group of women led by chief choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and the unseen Helena Markos.
Susie arrives on a day of panic, with the school in a spin over the disappearance of Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), the lead in their upcoming performance of Volk. But she impresses so much with her natural talent that she’s accepted and moves into Patricia’s old dorm room.
The imposing dance academy is a house of secrets — whispered conversations that’s not spoken out loud, technicolour nightmares and mysterious rooms hidden behind mirrors.
When another student, Olga (Elena Fokina), becomes hysterical over Patricia’s disappearance, she tries to storm out of the building, but is instead magically guided into a room of mirrors beneath the rehearsal space. As Susie dances her feverish part in Volk, now the new lead, Olga’s body is twisted and broken down like a puppet in tandem.
Meanwhile, Patricia’s therapist, Josef Klemperer (also Swinton), the only significant male character, contacts another student, Sara (Mia Goth), after his suspicions are aroused. He conveys to Sara Patricia’s claims of witches at the school.
The Tanz Dance Academy is indeed run by a coven of witches and the dancing is part of their magical rituals. Susie is chosen as a vessel for Helena Markos in her continued bid for immortality. But there is a political tussle brewing between Markos and Blanc.
Outside the walls of the school, political turmoil is spilling into the streets. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich has set the action in 1977 Berlin (a city literally divided) during the German Autumn, a period during which radical left insurgents kidnapped a high profile industrialist, took a plane hostage for almost a week and assassinated West Germany’s attorney-general.
The external violence is conveyed through news reports and the flash of street protesters, an allegory for the power struggle within Tanz’s walls.
But ultimately, what you’ll remember from Suspiria are the dance sequences, a heated, frenetic display of physical contortions that mesmerises — an unknowable and malevolent energy propelling each limb through the space.
Argento is famed for his horror compositions and it’s safe to say Guadagnino has delivered some of the same shocks with Suspiria’s torrent of blood, gore and guts, especially in its intense and outrageous climax, all set to Thom Yorke’s unnerving score.
Suspiria is not a crowd-pleaser and it’s certainly not an easy watch. There will inevitably be audiences walking out of the movie who’ll shake their heads and wonder “what just happened?”, especially those who weren’t prepared.
But if you let yourself be taken over by its sinister spell, you’ll be in for an unforgettable experience.