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Blood ballet: 'Suspiria' is strange, beautiful and horrific

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Dakota Johnson stars in SUSPIRIA (Photo: Amazon Studios)

Suspiria
4 out of 5 Stars
Director
: Luca Guadagnino
Writers: David Kajganich, Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Rated: R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) - Synopsis: A young dancer is accepted into a prestigious German dance company that harbors its share of dark secrets.

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Review: In 1977 Dario Argento released “Suspiria,” a strange tale about a ballerina that starts out as an art house mystery and ends with more blood splatter and maggots than a dozen slashers combined. Argento films are known for their bursts of graphic violence, it’s not start-to-finish gore, but there are very few of his films that were given theatrical releases without the copious cutting of footage deemed too explicit for audiences.

Some 40 years later the film has been revisited by Luca Guadagnino, director of last year’s “Call Me by Your Name.” The central thrust of the story remains the same, but this isn’t a straightforward remake. In fact, many of the iconic set pieces in Argento’s film are nowhere to be found. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” didn’t work on any level.

Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, an American dancer who has come to Germany to study dance at the renown Markos Dance Academy. She arrives at a time of discord within the dance company. A power struggle between Madame Markos and Madame Blanc (both portrayed by Tilda Swinton) has left the instructors divided as how to move forward. The instability impacts the students as well. Bannion takes advantage and advances quickly.

One of the major difference between the two is that Argento’s film is 90 minutes long. Guadagnino’s is an hour longer as David Kajganich’s script adds, removes and expands on certain aspects of the Argento story. This primarily extends the art house and gothic thriller aspects of the film. It plays up the mystery rather than just upping the gore. Like Argento, when Guadagnino commits to showing violence, he doesn’t hold anything back. It’s brutal and occasionally bizarre.

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One of the major additions to the script is a subplot focused on Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton in a third role), a psychotherapist laden with guilt. It’s an interesting extension that might have deserved a film of its own.

On the technical front Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is a little less saturated than I expected, but offers many moments of splendor; Thom Yorke’s score, which incorporates aspects of the original film’s compositions, is appropriately hypnotic and the general art and costume design is impressive.

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Those looking for a traditional horror film will likely prefer “Halloween,” but if you found the slow burn of “Hereditary” intriguing, then “Suspiria” should engage and entertain you.