SUSPIRIA is a potent, nasty horror show. (Translation: that means it’s great!) The movie reinterprets a cult favorite 1977 movie about a dance academy run by witches — but with some very different story ideas. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME filmmaker Luca Guadagnino directs the new movie, and he pushes the film’s star to new extremes.
Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion. She’s a talented young dancer who travels from her small American hometown to Berlin. There, she joins a prestigious dance academy run by a group of women, including Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc.
At the school, Susie finds a rigorous and rewarding approach to dance. She soon discovers the truth about the academy, and also faces much more than the demands of performing on stage. Through it all, Dakota Johnson delivers an amazing performance that looks like it takes her to the edge of sanity.
Dance Like The Devil Isn’t Watching
We know Johnson from the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY films and a handful of other movies including HOW TO BE SINGLE, BLACK MASS, and BAD TIMES AT EL ROYALE. She delivers terrific performances in all those movies, but SUSPIRIA is on a much higher level.
First off, there’s the dancing. This movie has absolutely electric, riveting physical performances. The original SUSPIRIA also combined witchcraft and dance, but the dancing in the original was pretty basic. Here, Johnson twirls and twists and contorts in amazing ways. She stomps and pounds the floor. It looks like an incredible effort.
And it’s more than just the physical requirements of each routine. In each scene, Johnson is also acting during the dance. That sounds obvious, but each dance is also an expression of Susie’s character; many are strange power struggles. There’s a lot more than just nailing the movies, and Johnson gets it all.
Then there’s the horror element. We’re not going to give anything away, but SUSPIRIA goes to some truly weird places. While the FIFTY SHADES movies also required Johnson to get into some wild behavior, those films always had a sort of romantic sheen. The second and third went fully into camp, with a bit of a wink to the audience.
SUSPIRIA does not wink. Amazon Studios showed off a scene at CinemaCon back in April, for instance, that featured a character being twisted and broken beyond any hope of repair. It’s one of the most intense sequences we’ve seen in a long time. And that’s nothing compared to the last third of the movie, which turns into one of the craziest witchcraft sequences put on film.
Dakota Johnson gets to play a significant role in many of the film’s scenes of horror and strangeness. She’s not on the sidelines, and she’s not just screaming like a victim. This movie gives her a chance to go wild, and she embraces it — with a creepy sense of control that is, dare we say it, totally bewitching.
SUSPIRIA opens wide on November 9.