Suspiria finally answered a question for me. Apparently, modern Mennonites are allowed to dance. The choice to make Dakota Johnson’s character into a Mennonite who went to the German homeland is fascinating. For those not familiar with our non-Amish homies, I’ll give some background on the Mennonites. Less strict than Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch, they hold many of the same beliefs. They forgo conflict and aggressive entertainment for quieter family-centric efforts. Hell, the easing up on dancing and public music still isn’t 50 years old.
The aura of Dario Argento doesn’t exist in this film. Much like how Howard Hawks doesn’t exist in the Carpenter version of The Thing, it’s not a bad move. Director Luca Guadagnino has become the face of American Arthouse takes on Europe for the last few years. By extending into a horror period piece, Guadagnino stumbles into something brilliant. The original Suspiria was written to be about little to teenage girls working in a European ballet academy ran by witches. Now, it’s about the act of discovery through supernatural competition.
Tilda Swinton lives, learns and acts on a planet of her own. Her dual performance of Madame Blanc and Dr. Klemperer is astonishing. Hell, the level at which she committed to playing a man will be the stuff of movie legend for years to come. Yet, she feels like a supporting figure here. Make no mistake, people. This is Dakota Johnson’s film. Many Argento fans worried that Johnson could pick up the slack from Jessica Harper’s performance. While I love to hear Jessica Harper sing, I’m the weirdo that doesn’t enjoy her Suspiria performance. I’m a Shock Treatment fan for life, ‘yo.
As the young Mennonite ballet dancer Susie Bannon, Dakota Johnson’s heroine represents something different. She is much more assured than Harper’s role in the first film. When the audience first meets her at the Academy, she wants to be the lead dancer. Mia Goth bumbles about, but Dakota Johnson’s Susie is staring daggers through her being. This isn’t a young woman that is struggling to rise to the top. She’s ready for the top and wants people to move.
As the matrons take to Susie, we see her competition eliminate through dance violence. It’s pop, lock and neck snapping time for anyone not named Susie. But, it’s also beautiful in such muted colors. In a year of fantastically designed female-led movies, there are two stark parallels that exist in 2018. You can either look amazing like A Simple Favor or you can look like a faded memory such as Suspiria. But, that color fade is on purpose. It’s a screw you to Argento, but it also restates Susie’s purpose now.
Susie knows what she wants and who is needed to make her true life happen. If I go any further, we’re dipping into spoiler territory. However, I will say this. You will not believe how fast 2 hours and 30 minutes can fly. Going back to my first point, this will be The Thing (1982) for young female horror fans. It’s not going to set the Box Office on fire, but I can’t help but see it be influential in a generation.
Even the idea of isolation is flipped on its ear here. Sure, they’re in West Berlin and living their best lives. But, their Sabbath and secret rituals are always hidden from prying eyes. The only time a man (Tilda Swinton) gets invited into the events, it’s a forced abduction. Everything about this film is lighting up my brain days after seeing it. I am counting the days until it hits home video.