Starring: DAKOTA JOHNSON, TILDA SWINTON, MIA GOTH, SYLVIE TESTUD, LUTZ EBERSDORF, with JESSICA HARPER and CHLOË GRACE MORETZ
Director: LUCA GUADAGNINO
Screenplay by: DAVID KAJGANICH
Oscar® nominee Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) directs an unsettling and original take on the 1977 cult horror classic Suspiria. In this riveting psychological thriller, American dancer Susie Bannion arrives in 1970s Berlin hoping to join the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Company. In her very first rehearsal, Susie stuns the company's famed choreographer, Madame Blanc, with her talent, vaulting to the position of lead dancer. Olga, the previous lead, breaks down and accuses the "Mothers" who run the company of being witches. But before she can flee, she is captured and tortured by a mysterious force somehow connected to Susie's dancing. Despite these early warning signs, Susie continues her rise to the top of the dance academy at all costs. As rehearsals continue for the final performance of the company's signature piece, "Volk," Susie and Madame Blanc grow strangely close, suggesting that Susie's purpose in the dance company goes beyond dancing.
Meanwhile, psychotherapist Dr. Klemperer discovers a disturbing diary from his patient, a former Markos dancer named Patricia, outlining an ancient demonic religion practiced by the Mothers. After Patricia mysteriously disappears, the doctor tries to alert the police but gets nowhere. Taking matters into his own hands, he approaches a dancer named Sara for help. Following their meeting, Sara ventures into the depths of the dance studio's hidden chambers, where strange and horrific discoveries await.
Suspiria features a powerful female cast, including Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Doctor Strange), Dakota Johnson (the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise), Chloë Grace Moretz (If I Stay, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) and Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness), and haunting music composed by Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The first thing you would notice is the blood.
It poured from the dancer's severed head, dripping down her torso like a sinister necklace, then collected in a crimson pool near two feet, still arched en pointe.
Above the dancer, the poster read: "UN FILM DI DARIO ARGENTO."
And beneath her, just one evocative word: "SUSPIRIA."
Needless to say, 10-year-old Luca Guadagnino was captivated. He first spied the poster for Suspiria at a movie theater in northern Italy, where Guadagnino had been sent to summer camp. "It was a trying time for me," he confesses. "I was not the popular one; I was the shy one. I had already nurtured a passion for things the average kid wasn't fond of, like cinema, and an attraction for the morbid."
Every day, the children crossed through the deserted village of Cesenatico, and it was there that the future Oscar® nominee saw the stark one-sheet for Argento's classic 1977 horror film hung in front of a shuttered theater. It left an indelible impression.
"I didn't know what it was about," he recalls. "I didn't know the title was Latin. But the image was so powerful that I started to nurture it and nurture it. We walked through the village daily, but the only moment I really cared about was walking past the cinema so I could admire the poster again. That's how I discovered Dario Argento and Suspiria, and it forged one of my primary identities, both as a filmmaker and as a man."
For years Guadagnino knew little else about Suspiria beyond that startling image and the name of its director. But at age 13, he stumbled upon a broadcast of Suspiria on Italian public television just as his family was about to sit down for dinner.
"I said, 'I don't want to eat,' and went and locked myself into a room all alone to watch it," he says. The film was all that he imagined and much more. "I was terrified and exhilarated by its crazy boldness, its formal dare, the music, the evocative power of the concept of witches. This movie made such a humongous impression on me that I started thinking, 'I want to watch it again. I want to read more about it.' I even went to the public library to find newspapers from the time it came out."
It wasn't long before Guadagnino began fantasizing about remaking the movie. "I had notebooks in which I would write, 'Suspiria by Luca Guadagnino.' Influenced by Dario's film, I started to think of a Suspiria that could be mine."
Now, as a follow-up to the most acclaimed film of his career, Best Picture Oscar® nominee Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino has finally brought his oldest cinematic dream to vivid life, a deeply personal homage to the film that awed and inspired him from an early age.
Tilda Swinton, one of the film's stars and a longtime collaborator of Guadagnino, calls the new Suspiria a "cover version" rather than a remake. "As we know in music, covers often sound very different from the original song," says the actress. "The impulse to make this film comes out of a deep affection for Argento's incomparable classic. We all have these particular booster jets, seed beds that fire us up. I'm so happy for Luca that he has finally made what he started visualizing so many years ago."
THE PATH TO SUSPIRIA
Italian producer Marco Morabito worked alongside Guadagnino for more than 10 years to help him realize his long-held vision. "Suspiria and I Am Love were the first projects we decided to develop as we started working together a long time ago," he says. "It took more than a year just to get the remake rights. It was Luca's obsession that pushed us not to give up."
The film is also produced by Brad Fischer, whose credits include such auteur-driven genre films as Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, David Fincher's Zodiac and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. "It is a wonderful twist of fate that we were able to make a film like this in Hollywood today," Fischer says, "and the credit for that belongs both to Luca as well as the team at K. Period and Amazon " Ted Hope and Scott Foundas in particular " whose support for visionary filmmakers is really what made it possible."
To pen the script, Guadagnino hired American writer David Kajganich, who also wrote the director's 2015 drama A Bigger Splash, a reimagining of the 1969 French film La piscine (The Swimming Pool) starring Swinton and Dakota Johnson. Kajganich remembers the jolt of seeing Argento's Suspiria for the first time. "It's like being dragged into a lava lamp by a lunatic and stabbed to death," he laughs. "It's upsetting. It's perplexing. I remember being struck by how the film's absence of story logic " its opposition to logic, really " didn't detract from many people's experience of watching it. It hits people like a fever dream. I have friends for whom Argento's Suspiria trumps all other horror films. And given the complexity and depth in that canon, I think that's quite an achievement."
Early on in their discussions, writer and director agreed the new film would be set in 1977, the year Argento's film was released. "It was a way we could bring social context into the story," says Kajganich. "As hermetically sealed as Argento's film is inside its own aesthetic interests, we wanted
the opposite for this film."
The script starts with the same premise as the original: a young American dancer named Susie finds herself drawn to a dance company that secretly houses a coven of witches. But while the original takes place in the small southwestern German city of Freiburg, Guadagnino's version is set in a divided Cold War Berlin at a time when terror attacks from the far-left Baader-Meinhof Group have reached a fever pitch. So the young dancers' dawning awareness about the true nature of the Markos Company is mirrored by their growing understanding of the compromised world they are entering.
"Moving the bulk of our story to Berlin during the tense final weeks of the Baader-Meinhof era meant we could situate the dance company right in the middle of a recent example of society's battle with its addiction to fascism," says Kajganich. "At the time, there was an anger rising up in Germany's youth about what their parents and grandparents had perpetrated on Europe with the war, which the older generations had not yet fully understood " let alone taken responsibility for." Guadagnino calls the story "a fable of a very specific time and place, where the past was so dark that it goes hand in hand with digging into the darkness of the self." He adds that the film reflects the feminism that swept Europe in the 1970s "in the way we describe the archetypical figure of the witch and the way the movie showcases a variety of female characters and empowers and devictimizes the women."
THE WOMEN OF SUSPIRIA
To play the lead character of Susie, the young woman who joins the Helena Markos Dance Company as an untrained novice, Guadagnino cast Dakota Johnson. Best known for her role as Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, Johnson also co-starred in Guadagnino's 2015 film A Bigger Splash, and it was during that production that the director first broached the idea of Suspiria to her.
"He said he had a plan to do a reimagining of it and asked if I would want to work with him again," says the actress. "We had fallen so deeply in love with each other by then that I would have done anything he was directing."
Though Johnson had not yet seen the original Suspiria, she was immediately intrigued by the subject matter. "I love dance movies, I love movies about women and the push and pull between them, and I love films about witchcraft," she says. "It's always been a very enticing subject for me."
When she finally watched Argento's horror classic, Johnson immediately understood the sway it held over Guadagnino and so many other cineastes. "It was such a visually delectable masterpiece," she says. "I can see how it influenced the horror genre for decades. It's definitely of a different time period, but I wouldn't describe it as dated. You're still enraptured."
The actress spent the year before production began developing her character " formulating her past, her future, and her relationship with dance. When we first meet Susie she has turned her back on everything she knows in America and come to Berlin as though called by something deep within her.
"Susie comes from a Mennonite family and was born feeling as though her soul did not match up with the religion, the people, the rules," says Johnson. "She wants to explore the world and sexuality and movement. And she has this innate power within her that I'm not sure she's even aware of."
Though Susie comes from a sheltered background, she proves to be a fast learner, and her ascent within the company surprises her and everyone around her. "She's like a little lamb that's in awe of the world, and she's shocked by everything, but she's not timid," says Johnson. "She wants it. She wants to drink it all in. It's an aggressive, unnerving way for a woman to behave in Berlin at that time, and you fear for her naiveté."
Kajganich notes that it's difficult to talk about Susie's character without revealing important twists of the plot. "I will say, however, that Dakota has mentioned she did some therapy after the shoot and I'm not surprised. For our film to work, Susie had to be the subject of one harrowing storyline, as well as the object of another even darker one. It was not an easy role."
The emotional demands aside, Johnson says the experience of filming Suspiria was remarkable, in part because of the film's predominantly female cast and its lack of a conventional romantic storyline. "It was the most nurturing, loving environment," she says. "You go in thinking, 'Okay, I'm going to film this psychotic story in an abandoned hotel with a cast of 40 women. It's going to be mayhem!' And yeah, everyone was on the same menstrual cycle " the whole thing was so witchy " but there was such a foundation of support and love and true, deep connections with one another. It was so liberating, and it made me feel proud to show this way of filmmaking to the world: There doesn't have to be a leading man, or a male-female story to get the point of love across."
Swinton, the Oscar®-winning actress with whom Guadagnino has collaborated on multiple prior films, says the director first began pitching her ideas for the movie more than 25 years ago. "As long as I can remember we've been discussing and planning Suspiria. All those years of mastication, of marination, lend a deep ease to a project. I've experienced this long gestation scenario before with other filmmakers and I love it. It means the work evolves so incrementally and with such detail that shooting is an easy business."
Her character, Madame Blanc, is a renowned choreographer and the leader of the Helena Markos Dance Company. "Blanc is the artist," says Swinton. "She is a dancer and choreographer of genius, a charismatic and powerful teacher who inspires real love and devotion in her dancers. But her conflict is a keen one: She has done a deal with the supernatural for the sake of the preservation of her company and must live with the consequences.
"Ambivalence and a sort of twilight loneliness is her lot," adds the actress. "She feels herself deeply compromised by the witchcraft she employs. The turbulent context of the Berlin she has survived and is living through is still an alienating one. Beautiful and cheerful are out: 'We must break the nose of every beautiful thing.'"
Unfamiliar with the world of modern dance, Kajganich conducted extensive research in order to write the character convincingly. "I studied Martha Graham, Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, Sasha Waltz " all the luminaries," says the screenwriter. "I spent time in Berlin following Sasha around, interviewing her at length and attending rehearsals with her and her dancers to see how someone like Blanc might talk about movement, how she might mentor dancers and direct a large company.
"That taught me the right words," he continues, "but when it came to creating a voice for Blanc, a nervous system, I went to one of the great wells of inspiration for this film: the work of Rainer Fassbinder. Some of the most potent women on film came out the crucible of his collaborations with his actresses " including the great Ingrid Caven who plays Vendegast in our film " and I did my best to construct Blanc's way of using words and occupying scenes in a Fassbinderian way."
Though Blanc has earned the devotion of her dancers, she is on less steady footing within her witch cohort. "Blanc leads the dance company in our story, but not the coven, and that puts her in a complicated situation," says Kajganich. "It was important that the audience be able to connect with her, that she never feels divorced from our world. There is something surprisingly sincere in Blanc, even nurturing, though her corners can be very sharp."
Guadagnino had complete confidence in his two lead actresses' ability to navigate the film's steep emotional terrain. "They are both incredibly talented performers," says the filmmaker. "I think the movie needed to be an extreme journey. But to do it in a way that is not just sensationalist but emotionally extreme, you have to have someone who can go places with you and can have an absolute trust in an uncompromising depiction of the way we can be extreme as people. Both Dakota and Tilda have that capacity on their own, and the three of us have a lot of fun going for extremes together."
Morabito, who also produced A Bigger Splash, says the two women's performances exceeded even his sky-high expectations. "Working with Tilda is pure pleasure. She makes everything so easy and always delivers the best performance. She always left me speechless. Dakota's interpretation is
truly remarkable. She had to face her dark side constantly, and that raised her performance to a very high level. She delivered every single scene with a rare power. I've never seen Dakota like this before. I hope to have the chance to work with her again."
Not long after arriving at the Helena Markos Dance Company, Susie befriends Sara, a fellow dancer played by rising star Mia Goth. The actress, who says she was excited just to be able to audition for Guadagnino, first spoke with him via Skype. "I've always been a huge fan of his," she says, "so to even have that meeting in and of itself was a huge deal for me."
Goth was intrigued by the way her character turns from a fierce defender of the company into a probing skeptic whose investigations could destroy everything she knows. "She comes from a place of privilege and hasn't had to struggle much until the point we meet her," says the actress. "Luca would say that it was her curiosity, her obsession, that got her into the trouble she found herself in. It's the curiosity that killed the cat."
The director is unreserved in his praise for Goth's performance. "I have to say, she is magnificent in the movie," he enthuses.
Like her castmates, Goth was thrilled to be part of an ensemble that featured so many talented actresses. "It was actually really empowering," she says. "You don't get the opportunity to do something like that very often, and we really supported each other. There should be more of that, because I think the end product is really incredible."
Another young actress cast in a pivotal role is Chloë Grace Moretz, who kicks off the movie with a nerve-jangling scene. "Luca and I had been trying to work together for several years but it had never worked out, for one reason or another," says Moretz. "He approached me about this film and it worked, thank goodness!"
Moretz plays Patricia, a dancer who has fled the Markos troupe after getting too close to the coven's deepest secrets. In a meeting with her psychotherapist, Patricia's intense fear could be misconstrued as paranoia, and her eventual disappearance causes others at the company to wonder
what motivated her " and what became of her.
"She was a normal girl " well-liked and grounded " who wanted to be a dancer," says the actress. "Without giving too much away, she finds herself the object of some malicious attention and begins to spiral down."
Moretz says Guadagnino allowed her to approach the role in whatever way she wanted " "Nothing was off limits." But one aspect of the part came as a last-minute surprise: "I wasn't aware that I would need to speak German until two or three weeks prior! I rushed to learn the language and then had to integrate both English and German throughout the scene. It felt very frantic, which worked beautifully for the vibe."