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The 400-Word Review: Suspiria

The troubling, disorienting remake of the horror classic is a masterpiece.

Photo by Alessio Bolzoni. Courtesy Amazon Studios.

The visual language of a film — the way its movements, angles, frames and cuts contribute to its impact on the viewer — can be spoken quietly. From more ascetic (or more unskilled) directors, the visual language can be quiet, even silent; from a showy director, it can sing.

In “Suspiria,” it screams. If you muted this movie, you’d still get the idea — and still be terrified.

Luca Guadagnino, best known to domestic audiences for “Call Me By Your Name,” has adapted the original work of giallo horror (by the similarly elegant Dario Argento) into a wholly original, stone-cold masterpiece. The equal, if not better, of its source material, this take represents a level of craft and bold artistry rarely seen, not just in genre filmmaking but on any screen.

Little should be known (and less can be simply described) about the film’s plot, but the broadest setup: A quiet American (Dakota Johnson) wanders into an imposing German school for dance. The academy, in postwar Berlin, reels artistically and psychologically from the lingering effects of fascism. It also, according to a traumatized dancer (Chloe Grace Moretz) who briefly escapes to tell a psychologist (Tilda Swinton) her tale, may be harboring a coven of violent witches.

The cast — especially Johnson, who fully and finally removes the big-budget albatross from around her neck, and Swinton, who plays three roles in total — are the individual, raw nerves of one body, writhing, screaming and breaking rhythmically over the course of the film. The score, by Thom Yorke, is indelibly haunting, providing a sort of scathing counterpoint in some scenes and playing it chillingly straight in others. And screenwriter David Kajganich’s adaptation of the original tale is elegant, vivid and harrowing.

Ultimately, though, it is Guadagnino’s vision that makes “Suspiria” a perfect film. The darker side of film history layers itself over his shots (with a nod to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom); there are moments of Kubrick, of David Lynch, of Hitchcock, of the giallo masters and Kurosawa. And yet the way these tools are employed and deployed is a fresh symphony of disorientation, a bold gauntlet thrown to any other filmmaker who intends to scare.

“Suspiria” might put off more audiences than it enchants; it’s simply too intense, too violent and too aggressive to resonate on a wide scale. Those who can endure it, however, will encounter a film like no other.

My Rating: 10/10

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