Film review: Suspiria bravura film-making but your buttocks will be numb by the end

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino's remake of 70s horror Suspiria boasts bold artistry, a Thom Yorke soundtrack and Tilda Swinton, but all at the expense of coherence and brevity, writes Damon Smith

Mia Goth and Dakota Johnson feature among the cast of Suspiria
Damon Smith

ITALIAN director Luca Guadagnino follows the Oscar-winning swoon of Call Me By Your Name with a physical and emotionally draining remake of Dario Argento's 1977 supernatural horror set at a dance academy, which is home to a coven of witches.

While the original film was a blood-soaked exercise in brevity and hallucinogenic visuals, enhanced with a creepy score courtesy of Italian prog-rock outfit Goblin, the new Suspiria runs almost one hour longer and indulges the theme of motherhood to woozy excess.

An opening title card, which teases the film as Six Acts And An Epilogue In A Divided Berlin, is a clear indication of scriptwriter David Kajganich's laborious intentions and a dire warning to anyone who anticipates full motion and sensation in their buttocks when the end credits roll.

Dramatic momentum is waylaid in the opening chapter entitled 1977 and is never retrieved as Guadagnino and Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom conceive ingenious ways to photograph intricate sequences in mirrored dance studios without betraying their cunning design in a reflection.

It's bravura film-making and Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke masterminds a discordant soundscape to match the frenetic visuals.

However, where bold artistry flourishes, comprehension sometimes withers and dies.

Characters' descents into madness bamboozle and confound, and explosions of barbarity and sacrifice never encourage us to jump out of our seats.

It's more likely some of the audience will be haunted by an urge to yawn.

American student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the prestigious Markos Dance Academy in West Berlin in autumn 1977, shortly after the disappearance of student Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz).

The missing girl made outlandish claims to psychotherapist Dr Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, under heavy make-up) and he wonders if there might be a germ of truth to her ravings.

"There's more in that building than what you can see," Patricia warned him.

While Klemperer investigates, Susie rises to the challenge of tutelage under the formidable Madame Blanc (Swinton again), whose unconventional practices raise the eyebrows of fellow teachers Miss Tanner (Angela Winkler) and Miss Vendegast (Ingrid Caven).

Susie usurps rival Olga (Elena Fokina) from a principal role in a forthcoming showcase and befriends another girl, Sara (Mia Goth), who is desperate to track down Patricia and agrees to meet Klemperer to discuss his suspicions about the staff.

"They are professional performers," he warns. "Illusion is their craft."

Suspiria bludgeons us into admiration and weary submission with a blitzkrieg of violence, profanity and full-frontal nudity.

Bodily fluids are expelled and limbs twisted sickeningly out of place to punctuate the script's melancholic musings on mother-daughter relationships and the collective guilt of a nation.

Swinton's performances in multiple guises are a source of constant delight but bloat the picture's excessive running time.

More is simply too much for me.

SUSPIRIA (18, 153 mins) Thriller/Horror. Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina. Director: Luca Guadagnino

RATING: 5/10

Released: November 16 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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