Dario Argento’s vision has been reborn. And you’ve never seen it quite like this before.
Luca Guadagnino’s update keeps the basic skeleton of Argento’s plot: a young woman named Susie Bannion (originally a wide-eyed Jessica Harper; now a more self-assured Dakota Johnson) discovers that the elite German ballet school she’d joined is actually a witches’ coven. But this new version is transformed. Expanded. Contorted, even.
Contorted? Let me explain. (Content warning ahead.)
In the first half-hour, one of Susie’s cohorts, Olga Ivanova (a fiery Elena Fokina) is trapped in a room full of mirrors, uncontrollably crying, vomiting, and urinating while her body is mangled by the power of some dark magic ritual—a dance of sorts—throwing her violently against the walls, twisting her bones, and stretching her limbs. When this excruciating event is over, Olga is still alive, but she is different. Visually and symbolically, she has become something much more tragic, unnerving, and powerful than whatever she was before.
This is what has happened to Suspiria.
Which is to say that the 2018 film is much more emotionally complex and texturally layered—and, ultimately, more twisted, sinister, and frightening—than the original Suspiria could have ever been. To be clear: this isn’t to say that the 1977 horror classic doesn’t deserve its spot in the history books. The bombastic, blood-red production design of Argento’s masterpiece is still a sight to behold. But the new film is grasping at something bigger, and it demands much more of us (for better or for worse).
This “grasping” has been true of horror films generally in the past decade or two, in just about every sub-genre. Depictions of uncanny blasphemy have become more nuanced and multifaceted, less about good-vs-evil and more about shades and iterations of trauma (compare depictions of devilishness in The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby to The VVitch and Hereditary); head-scratching existential horror has become more allegorical and complex (compare the purposeful incomprehensibility of Eraserhead to the earnest near-comprehensibility of Annihilation); the feminism of “lady avenger” films has become more brutal and pointed (compare the relatively straightforward [but effective] approach of Eyes Without A Face and Female Prisoner: Scorpion to the propulsive rage and energy of something like Revenge); even the “gnarly, abject revulsion of body-horror films” has grown more introspective, and thus, in a way, more perverse and provocative (compare the otherworldly disgust of The Thing to the more grounded, torturous [and yet, poetic?] trauma of Goodnight Mommy or Raw).
To be fair: these chronological comparisons are reductive. But let’s just say that horror, in a general sense, has been evolving—and Suspiria is a great case study to illustrate the evolution.
Guadagnino’s remake, like the original, balances awe and mystery with moments of shocking brutality, but it accomplishes this balance with its own unique sensibilities. To some degree, this seems like a calmer, quieter film: its color scheme is more muted than vibrant, and its music and sound design is more melancholy than percussive (the score is composed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who obviously contributes a different kind of atmosphere than Goblin did for Argento). But on the other hand, this film isn’t calmer or quieter at all: its use of historical/political context is more acerbic and urgent; its sexuality is more overt; its dance choreography is more deliriously kinetic; its narrative structure is more epic and byzantine (featuring two or three side-stories beyond Susie’s discoveries); and its editing style is more frantic and twisted.
This editing difference is most obvious during Suspiria’s nightmarish montages of death, decay, and abjection (most notably: images of writhing worms on faces, in a tiny nod to the original), which occur while Susie’s dreams are being controlled by Madame Blanc (the always ethereal Tilda Swinton). But the film’s stylistic difference is perhaps even more subtly apparent during moments of waking paranoia: for example, in the first scene, its jarring cuts to extreme close-ups of everyday objects imbue every corner of the room with a presence, as if old dusty books and cracked picture frames are whispering, vibrating, and leering—as if we are constantly being watched by the damned.
Not to mention the visual depiction of the violence and witchcraft itself, which goes far beyond the eerie hangings, the frantic knife attacks, and the laughing, walking corpses of 1977. Guadagnino’s version inflicts much worse—there’s Olga Ivanova’s aforementioned body contortion in a room of mirrors, of course, but there are also explicit stabbings, moments of ritualistic disembowelment, snapped protruding shinbones, and even a partial decapitation.
The offscreen violence is harsh and unforgiving, too: the film doesn’t shy away from its setting (the so-called “German Autumn”). There are RAF bombings, kidnappings, hijackings—all overheard in the background, on television or in the distance—all infused with notions of vergangenheitsbewältigung (i.e. Germany’s struggle to productively work through its past, especially regarding WWII and the Holocaust). Certainly, something could be made with the relationship between the film’s depictions of political violence (outside of the coven) and its depictions of spiritual violence (inside the coven), but that is beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that Suspiria has a lot on its mind.
All of this—the stylistic differences, the harshness, the political context—adds up to something quite large. A lot of genres see this sort of thing happen (i.e. remakes and sequels getting “bigger”), but rarely is the result this purposeful and powerful. Most big-budget, big-concept remakes and sequels are accused of being too unwieldy, too unfocused, and too raucous, losing track of the intimacy and razor-sharp focus of what the original was really about. I’ve described Jurassic World this way—and countless others have done likewise with the Matrix sequels (calling them “ugly” and “bloated”), the Fast and the Furious franchise (the latest installment of which has been described as “narratively unnecessary”), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (which was largely well-liked, but sometimes dismissed as “vast and twee”). But despite what anyone else tells you, Suspiria is different.
Suspiria isn’t bigger for the sake of bigness; it isn’t naively trying to outdo (thereby breaking) what made the original film work. Rather, it’s simply expanding the boundaries and deepening the details of the original. It’s keeping the mystery and psychological horror, but adding a bit of anxious expressionism, grandiose mythology, grotesque body horror, profound guilt, feminist iconography, echoes of terrorism, and shadows of genocide.
You could argue that not all of these pieces fit together—that it’s not completely coherent—that it leaves you coldly wondering how it all adds up. And to be sure, this film is bewildering. But I think this bewildered “wondering” is an essential part of the experience. Suspiria is supposed to leave you shaken and a little confused. It’s supposed to give you a glimpse into the abyss, a terrifying-yet-melancholy 152-minute nightmare. This film is a magnum opus of disturbing visuals, eerie set design, ghostly cinematography, psychological/political allegory, pagan symbolism, and occasional bone-breaking intensity.
In short: it’s a hell of a thing.
 Anderson, Ros. “Terrifyingly Beautiful—The Colours of Suspiria.” The Chromologist, 4 November 2016.
 Wei, Chris. “On Yoda, damnation, spooky films, and liberals.” Food for Thought, 24 October 2018.
 Weekend Edition Saturday. “Thom Yorke On Scoring The New ‘Suspiria.’” NPR Music, 3 November 2018.
 There is plenty more on this concept—and on the film’s general notion of culpability and of bearing witness. See Newby, Richard. “’Suspiria’ and Rethinking the Witch.” The Hollywood Reporter, 5 November 2018.
 Wei, Chris. “’Jurassic World’ doesn’t understand ‘Jurassic Park.’” Reviews, 12 June 2018.
 Edelstein, David. “The Matrix Reloaded: We waited four years for this?” Slate, 14 May 2003.
 Mendelson, Scott. “’Fate of the Furious’ Review: A Disappointing Sequel, A Franchise Stuck in Neutral.” Forbes, 9 April 2017.
 Long, Camilla. “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Sunday Times (UK), 25 May 2014.
 For more on this theme, see Film Crit Hulk. “The Shadows of Guilt That Haunt ‘Suspiria’ Are All Too Timely,” The Observer, 31 October 2018.