He also burrows deeply, and often unsettlingly, into the tactile elements of dance, the pleasure and the pain. The slapping and heavy breathing of this particular form becomes, in a way, its own music, borderline assaultive, in ways that turn into straight-up body horror in one key, unforgettable intercutting of dance and death. The big climactic dance performance, frankly, is staged less like a recital than a murder, a metaphor that soon becomes horribly, memorably literal. You may have heard, and even despaired, that Guadagnino had jettisoned the original film’s signature color saturation — those blown-out, near-hallucinogenic reds and greens. Well, good news: he wasn’t eschewing them. He was just saving them.
Straight-up national treasure Dakota Johnson is electrifying in the leading role, somehow maintaining the tricky balance of playing both sympathetic innocence and offhand eroticism; Kajganich writes her some wild turns, many of them new to this remake, and she nails every single one of them. Joining the A Bigger Splash reunion is Tilda Swinton, who sharply captures the hard-driving toughness of a specific type of arts instructor, the kind that turns her students’ desire for acceptance and praise into something like a cult of personality.
Not all of Guadagnino’s experiments work. Suspiria ’18 clocks in at damn near an hour longer than Argento’s original, and there are a fair number of watch-checking moments; he gets the mood right, but the tempo is occasionally off. And much of that running time is spent on the new and not altogether successful character of an investigative therapist, snooping around the school to figure out what happened to a former client. This thread pays off eventually (mostly), but feels primarily like a vehicle for a cutesy casting gimmick.
But these are minor complaints. Guadagnino keeps the viewer wildly off-balance with a variety of tools: acts of random, sudden violence; a genuinely upsetting sound design (those crunching bones, yikes); and Susie’s visions, disturbing mixtures of flashback, dream, and nightmare. Most effectively, he uses (particularly early on) a whole palate of visual tricks — those disorienting close-ups, shock cuts, oblique angles, wobbly pans and zooms — all to better convey how out of sorts, and out of place, she is in this world.
Suspiria is a movie you can’t take you eyes off of, even when it doesn’t make a damn lick of sense. It’s a feast of gobsmacking imagery and stomach-churning discomfort, its wild shifts held aloft by the skill of his cast and the confidence of its director. “Dance,” the students are told near its conclusion. “Keep dancing. It’s beautiful.” And it is.
Suspiria is out Friday in New York and L.A. It expands nationwide November 2.