After months of excitement and speculation, Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s horror classic Suspiria finally screened for press in Venice on Saturday. An embargo on reviews will break later in the day, revealing if the hype on the film’s fear factor is true. Guadagnino earlier told The Hollywood Reporter that he hopes this will indeed be one of the scariest, “most disturbing experience[s] you can have” on film.
The new film is set in 1977 Berlin during the German Autumn. It opens with Chloe Grace Moretz as Patricia, ranting to her psychiatrist, Dr Jozef Klemperer, played by Lutz Ebersdorf (or Tilda Swinton) about her narrow escape from a nearby dance academy run by witches. The witches are after her, she claims. They’re inside of her.
Dakota Johnson plays Susie Bannion, a gifted dancer who arrives at the acclaimed school run by Madame Blanc, an eerie Swinton. A dancer, Olga (Elena Fokina), is harshly punished when she quits the school, storming out after calling the teachers witches.
The ensuing footage caused a sensation earlier this year at CinemaCon as she is banished to another room, with her body, controlled by Susie’s dancing, contorted over and over to the breaking point. Another dancer, Sara (Mia Goth), is intent on uncovering the mystery behind the school, and asks Susie to help, but it’s not immediately clear which side Susie is on.
Dakota said what drew her to the film was basically everything about it, but especially being able to work with Guadagnino again after A Bigger Splash. “The film is about things I love so much, dancers and witches and magic,” she said. “I grew up just loving these things, and I grew up being fascinated by groups of women and feeling that they were mysterious and magical and to have this inside look with this person that I love so much into something that has been so mystical to me was perfect.”
Swinton, who most suspect is also playing Klemperer in heavy makeup and prosthetics, played along with the stunt, reading a letter she said the actor wrote as an apology that he could not appear in person. “Though I strongly suspect Suspiria will be the only film I ever appear in, I like the work,” she read. “I would urge any of you disturbed by this film to seek a good therapist.”
When later asked how it was to play two roles, Swinton responded, “What two roles?” In terms of an Oscar campaign, the actress added she hoped there would be one for Ebersdorf. Without giving away any spoilers, some visuals in the film make it very difficult to believe the actor playing Klemperer is indeed an 82-year-old man. And some critics suspect Swinton may have played even more than two roles.
Jessica Harper, who appears as the psychiatrist’s love interest, also played along, saying, “I personally loved working with Lutz Ebersdorf. I found him an incredible acting partner.”
Johnson clarified earlier comments that working on the pic sent her into therapy. “First of all, I was not psychoanalyzed and I hope I never will be,” she said. “I find sometimes when I work on a project, and I don’t have any shame in this, but I’m a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people’s feelings, and when you’re working sometimes with dark subject matter, it can stay with you. And to talk with someone really nice afterwards is a nice way to move on from the project.
“My therapist is a very nice woman. The experience was not traumatic. It was the most joyful that it could be,” Johnson continued. “It was mischievous and play and I loved it more than anything. This film didn’t send me to a psych ward. I just have a lot of feelings.”
Guadagnino was also asked to give his opinion on Suspiria and the #MeToo movement. He said that his film predated the movement, but indeed it was a watershed moment.
“It is a passage from which it is not possible to go back. It has deeply affected our consciousness,” Guadagnino said. “I want to think that our job — this, the previous and the future — is arising always from the pleasant desire of never being in the position of crushing somebody with your own power.”