’Suspiria’ is a dark, twisted tale of femininity, motherhood and witchcraft

Director Luca Guadagnino’s polarizing portrayal of a German coven


Official poster for Suspiria (2018)

By Ashviny Kaur, Collegian Staff

The term “uncomfortable” often turns people away from movies, but not me. Recommended to me by a friend a few years ago, “Suspiria” was described to me as “a film that will make you so uncomfortable, you’ll need to take a shower after.” I was scared, yet I chose to seek out this film anyway — what a beautiful mistake that was.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, this film is a polarizing, stress-inducing and horrifying story about witches, femininity and motherhood. While it is a remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” released in 1977, this 2018 counterpart is a wholly different film. From its difference in color palette to its highly stylized and gory body horror scenes, the two films are two separate entities: the same bones in a completely different body.

“Suspiria” (2018) follows young Susie Bannion, played by Dakota Johnson, a naive, Mennonite American girl auditioning for a prestigious dance academy in West Berlin. Unknowingly, her quest to be a dancer at this world-renowned institute will lead her into a world of politics, femininity and witchcraft. She enters the institute at a time of instability, as lead dance choreographer Madame Blanc tries to wrest control of the academy from Helena Markos, an old and sickly matriarch. Blanc and Markos, both played by Tilda Swinton, are fighting a battle that seems to be quite straightforward, but as the film goes on viewers come to realize that everything is not as it seems.

The beginning of the film opens with a scene in which a harrowed ex-student of the academy speaks to a therapist by the name of Dr. Jozef Klemperer, once again portrayed by Swinton. Patricia (Chloe Grace-Moretz) speaks to Klemperer about her suspicions regarding the leaders and choreographers of the academy, stating that they are witches who complete rituals at the expense of young, precocious girls. She goes missing shortly after and Klemperer is intrigued by this shocking turn of events, prompting him to investigate the institute and contact the police.

These two separate events run on a parallel track throughout the film, and as Klemperer gets closer to the truth things begin to darken within the walls of the academy. Susie is crowned head dancer and gains a newfound sense of confidence and flair. In a standout performance by Johnson, Susie’s character arc worsens quickly as she realizes that she is a powerful being at this academy; she belittles other students and engages in selfish acts, while also being quite self-destructive.

Tilda Swinton, harnessing three different roles within this film, is stellar in each and every one of them. She plays Madame Blanc with a sternness that is seen as cold, but protective, yet she also instills fear and dislike as Mother Helena Markos. Finally, she stuns with her portrayal of Klemperer, the mild-mannered and worrisome psychiatrist who doesn’t have a clue what he’s in for.

Without giving away too much about this film, the institute is revealed to be a coven of witches who worship “The Three Mothers”, a triad of witches who rule and watch over the Earth. This triad consists of Mother Tenebrarum (the youngest and most cruel), Mother Lachrymarum (the most beautiful and powerful) and Mother Suspiriorum (the oldest and wisest). Helena Markos, the leader of the coven who also happens to be Mother Suspiriorum, is dying with each passing day, and she actively searches for a new vessel for her soul. Markos begins targeting Susie as her choice of vessel, thus allowing her to climb the ranks within the institute as a fairly new student.

The film isn’t just a gory thriller. “Suspiria” is a metaphor for femininity and womanhood. The women in the coven are introduced as motherly and homely, yet we soon come to realize that they’re extremely powerful beings who occasionally partake in horrible acts of torture and murder. The witches inflict violence upon their students and also convince them to act in malicious ways, insinuating that powerful women should be feared by all. Although some critics believe that this take on feminism falls flat, I don’t see it that way. I believe this movie is a true representation of feminism and motherhood, as parents are sometimes forced to make decisions that don’t always result in positive feelings. This is seen throughout the film, as the witches don’t seek to inflict harm upon everyone, yet they constantly make sacrifices at the expense of their students in order to continue their rule and protection over this planet.

The film as a whole is a jarring and uneasy watch. Personally, I tend to watch all films in one sitting, yet I simply couldn’t do that with “Suspiria.” There are several scenes where limbs and bodies are seen contorting in unnatural ways, combined with gore and torture, making it almost impossible to sit through. I’ve never had any issues watching the occasional mind-bending horror movie, but Guadagnino’s remake of this already twisted story made me feel extremely uncomfortable. That being said, I enjoyed this film from start to finish. I liked that it didn’t leave me with a sense of completeness and satisfaction, as most films do. The beauty of Guadagnino’s remake lies within its unconventionality, and this film felt like a breath of fresh air when compared to other films released in this year. “Suspiria” is definitely not for you if you have a weak stomach, but if you’re looking for a film that will stay with you for quite some time, I recommend this glorious but traumatizing remake.

Ashviny Kaur can be reached at [email protected]