So if you’ve been following any of my horror film-related articles here on the site lately, you’ve probably noticed that I am ridiculously hyped for Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming Suspiria remake. Last week Amazon Studios released a wicked trailer and the film is set to make its debut at Venice Film Festival 2018 this coming Saturday, ahead of its wide release in early November. In order to help capitalize on the building excitement for the horror film, fans have just been given a bit of a double whammy.
First, Amazon Studios have released a short scene from the film. In the clip, we see Tilda Swinton’s Madam Blanc teaching her dancers a new ballet she’s been working on (titled “Open Again“) and singles out Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion to “improvise freely” at the heart of the dance and test the newcomer’s instincts. What follows looks far less like a dance and more like a cross between eroticism and body horror, as Susie stays on all fours and close to the floor with her hips bucking back and forth as her shoulder blades begin to contort in ways that just seem… wrong. Painful, even.
You can check out the unnerving clip from Suspiria right here:
What I find most interesting about the clip is how immaculate Guadagnino’s directing is. Two shots in particular stand out to me- the first was an early wide shot that starts with Blanc in the far back of the room, only for her to move across the room as she pulls out a curtain while the camera dollies over to the right to meet her in a new medium close-up shot.
Then later, when Susie begins her Cronenbergian improv dance, the camera provides a lengthy wide shot that focuses on Miss Tanner (one of Blanc’s co-workers at the academy) watching Susie’s dance. As Tanner circles around Susie from a distance, the camera then pans down to Susie’s maligned shoulders in the foreground for a moment before rising back up to shift over to Blanc’s watching gaze. The movement in the shot itself isn’t exactly mind-blowing on paper, but what impresses me about it is how Guadagnino seamlessly transitions the P.O.V. going on in the shot from a character, to a subject and back to another character entirely without missing a single beat. It’s not a very “show off”-y shot, but rather thoughtful camerawork and blocking that’s prioritizing the characters first.
Earlier in the week, Guadagnino also had an exciting and insightful interview with THR about his Suspiria, in which he went into quite a lot of detail about topics such as his personal relationships with both the original film and its creator Dario Argento, the concept of witches and why the director opted to reject the Technicolor aesthetic of the original for his remake.
In particular, Guadagnino’s comments on witches are quite intriguing:
“I think a coven of witches comes with the concept of solidarity. If we take the historical sense of the term witchcraft, from the inquisition until the enlightenment, it was about a scandal of the bond between women in a moment in time when society couldn’t accept that. So, historically, witchcraft came with the idea of coming back to the power of women, the power of the woman as a goddess, and it has been perverted by the official history and the official religions as making a bargain with the devil. The witchcraft that I’m interested in also has a lot to do with what, psychoanalytically, is called the concept of the terrible mother, which you can see also in some religions, particularly in the Kali goddess.“
As for his decision to shoot his Suspiria in a more muted color palette than the Argento original, the director stated:
“I don’t think we tried to make something opposite to that. I think Suspiria by me is extremely rich in colors, except that we went for a different take. Dario Argento and let’s face it, Luciano Tovoli, his wonderful D.P., they decided to go for an extremely expressionistic way of decoding horror, which started from the work of Mario Bava. The way in which they made those colors — not just simple gels in front of lights, they were using velvet and they were really sculpting the light — [that] has influenced filmmakers for so long. I think everything that could have been said through that style has been said…
… For me, I always think of the setting of the story before I decide anything about the light and the color of my films. And this is a movie about Berlin, 1977, a country that is almost on the verge of civil war, where there is a great generational divide, where the horrors of the past are confronted by the urgency and the violence of the present, a period that was called the German Autumn. We started to see the pictures of the time, and in particular the wonderful lesson of [cinematographer] Michael Ballhaus in the films of Rainer Fassbinder. And we started to think of how a great painter like Balthus created such uncanny eeriness and fear in his amazing paintings. And that led me, my production designer Inbal Weinberg, my costume designer Giulia Piersanti and the director of photography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom to go for browns and blacks and blues and greens, all muted and juxtaposed, so that we could in a way encompass this idea of a German Autumn. That’s why the colors are not primary. They do not pop at you. I hope that they infiltrate you and they go deep into you.“
That nod to Rainer Werner Fassbinder feels appropriate to me, judging by what we’ve seen in both the trailers and the released scene. While Fassbinder never made a horror, rather he was something of a master when it came to intense melodramas, the grit of the film stock and color palette in the new Suspiria footage does feel reminiscent of the late German director’s work. But perhaps the thing that seems most like Fassbinder to me is Tilda Swinton’s take on Madam Blanc.
In the original Suspiria, Blanc is very clearly the main antagonist. While the mysterious Helena Markos is the coven’s head witch, it’s Blanc who Susie spends the majority of the film interacting with. It’s Blanc who bullies Susie around and gaslights her over the course of the story.
In at least this brief scene of the remake, Blanc seems noticeably more sympathetic and possibly also affectionate of Susie. Aside from her obvious interest in Susie as the dance group’s new dancer, there’s a notable difference in Blanc’s stare than Tanner’s. At the very end of the clip, after audiences get a tease of some grotesque figure lurking directly beneath Susie, Guadagnino cuts back to Blanc who immediately reacts and looks up directly into the camera.
The thing is- to my eyes at least- it doesn’t look like Blanc is happy about whatever just happened with Susie. She looks upset and worried. But why? That sort of potential narrative conflict and drama seems like the sort of thing Fassbinder would have thought up of, had he lived to ever make a horror film.
But what do you think? Are you excited to see Suspiria? Be sure to leave a comment below!