By Erin Caine
With all the pulp slasher films coming out lately, it seems as if it has been a while since horror cinema has made audiences feel genuinely, profoundly disturbed. In the case of the upcoming “Suspiria,” Matt Miller of Esquire described the first viewing as “traumatizing” for its audience, and that the scene they were shown compelled many to “turn away from the screen” entirely.
Slated for release later in the fall, the supernatural horror film — a remake of a 1977 Italian cult classic of the same name — stars Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Chloë Grace Moretz, and is directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Dario Argento’s original “Suspiria” was nominated for two Saturn Awards, and lauded by critics as visually bold and unflinchingly gory. Another’s Olivia Singer calls it the “epitome of cinematic visual frenzy,” one which privileges “the experience of sound and vision over that of character and plot.”
Both films follow an ambitious ballet student, Susie Bannion, who arrives at a dance academy in Berlin only to discover, when other students start disappearing, the hidden darkness of the place.
The official trailer for the new “Suspiria” is gripping and grotesque, visually far gloomier than its deceptively bright and colorful predecessor. Though the 1977 film may be considered today as campy fun for horror fans, it’s clear that the remake is going for something far murkier and more psychological.
The eye-catching set design and lighting of Argento’s film was a significant part of its appeal; scenes were often bathed in a strong red or blue glow, and characters navigated rooms with intricately-patterned walls and floors. In fact, “Suspiria” of 1977 was one of the last feature films to ever be processed in Technicolor.
Guadagnino, best known for directing Oscar-nominated “Call Me by Your Name,” seems to opt instead for a subdued, almost oppressive color palette and unusual, artistic shots. One of these shots is set in a large corridor, with the dance class visible only through narrow, glass doors — as if we’re staring through a keyhole.
Many were pleasantly surprised to hear that Thom Yorke, frontman of English alternative band Radiohead, composed the score for the film. Yorke, whose work has almost always been eerie, cerebral, and experimental, indeed seems the obvious choice for the film’s musical backdrop.
The small sample of his work for “Suspiria” that we have already is layered chaos, jarring and anxiety-inducing as it builds on each sound. The score for the original was written and performed by prog-rock band Goblin, and tonally much different than Yorke’s layering of sound.
Goblin’s vocals are raspy and demonic, and incorporates synths and organ to create a sense of heightened drama. The new film’s score seems to have an almost sentient quality, filled with the sounds of breathing and whispering; after all, the meaning of “suspiria” in Latin is “sigh.”
Hopefully, this film will become the kind of influential horror classic that fans have been craving since last year’s tense and thought-provoking “Get Out.” In an industry generally saturated with a steady stream of remakes and reimaginings, “Suspiria” in Guadagnino’s hands easily stands out among them.