Suspiria (2018 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Produced by
Screenplay by David Kajganich
Based on
Music by Thom Yorke
Cinematography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Edited by Walter Fasano
  • K Period Media
  • Frenesy Film Company
  • Videa
  • Mythology Entertainment
  • First Sun
  • Memo Films
  • Vega Baby
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 1, 2018 (2018-09-01) (Venice)
  • October 26, 2018 (2018-10-26) (United States)
Running time
152 minutes[1][2]
  • United States
  • Italy
Language English
Budget $20 million[3]

Suspiria (pronounced [sʊsˈpɪ.ri.a], lit. Latin: "sighs") is a 2018 Italian-American supernatural horror film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by David Kajganich, based on the 1977 film directed by Dario Argento. It stars Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, and Chloë Grace Moretz. Harper, the lead in the original film, appears in a different role. Set in 1977 Berlin, the plot follows a young American dancer who enrolls at a prestigious dance academy plagued by unusual occurrences.

A remake of Suspiria was announced in 2008 after Guadagnino had acquired the option from the original film's writers, Argento and Daria Nicolodi. Guadagnino offered the project to director David Gordon Green, but it was canceled due to financing conflicts. In September 2015, Guadagnino confirmed his plans to direct, with the film described as an "homage" to the 1977 film rather than a direct remake. A new screenplay was drafted by Kajganich, who had written Guadagnino's previous project, A Bigger Splash (2015). Principal photography for Suspiria took place in late 2016 and early 2017 in Varese and Berlin. The score was composed by Radiohead singer Thom Yorke and the dances were choreographed by Damien Jalet.

Suspiria premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on September 1, 2018. In the United States, it is scheduled for a limited release by Amazon Studios in Los Angeles and New York on October 26, 2018, followed by Halloween screenings in select cities before opening wide on November 2, 2018. It will be released in the United Kingdom by Mubi on November 16, 2018.


The story is divided into six acts - "1977", "Palaces of Tears", "Borrowing", "Taking", "Into the Mütterhouse (All the Floors are Darkness)" and "Suspiriorum" - and an epilogue - "A Sliced-Up Pear".

During the German Autumn of 1977, Patricia Hingle, a student at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, tells her psychiatrist Jozef Klemperer that the academy is controlled by a coven of witches. She leaves a backpack of journals in his office detailing "The Three Mothers": Mother Suspiriorum (Mother of Sighs), Mother Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness), and Mother Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears). Klemperer initially dismisses her claims as delusion, but grows suspicious when he is informed that she has disappeared. The following day, Susie Bannion, a young American from a Mennonite family in Ohio, auditions at the academy. Though formally untrained, her natural talent fascinates the company's director, Madame Blanc. Susie is admitted and soon meets Sara, a wealthy student who is reeling from Patricia's unexpected departure.

During rehearsal, a Russian student, Olga, becomes indignant with Madame Blanc after she posits that Patricia left to join the Red Army Faction. Olga calls Blanc a witch in Russian and storms out, but before she can depart the academy, she finds herself trapped alone in a room lined with mirrors. Blanc resumes the rehearsal, during which Susie performs an aggressive improvisational dance; her movements begin physically inflicting Olga, ravaging her body to the point of rupturing her viscera and bones. Several of the academy's matrons drag Olga's mangled corpse away with large hooks.

Susie quickly becomes Blanc's protégée, and is appointed the lead of the academy's new piece, Volk. Meanwhile, Sara uncovers clandestine hallways in the academy and grows suspicious that Susie is colluding with the matrons. Klemperer and numerous others attend the opening night of Volk. Prior to the performance, Sara explores a passageway that leads her into a series of catacombs, where she finds a severely disfigured Patricia. Sara is confronted by several of the matrons, and breaks her leg trying to escape. The performance begins without her, but she emerges midway through the piece, dancing her part with robotic precision on a broken leg; her eyes have changed from brown to blue, and Susie's blue to brown. Klemperer notices this, and leaves the performance unnerved.

Susie attends a celebratory dinner at a bar with the matrons. Meanwhile, Klemperer encounters Anke, his presumed-deceased wife, on a street in East Germany. She tells him she faked her death after the uprising of the Nazis, and started a life in Zurich. They walk together, passing through a security checkpoint into West Germany without notice. Klemperer realizes the two have arrived at the Markos Academy; before his eyes, he realizes Anke is in fact Miss Huller, one of the matrons, and that he has been lured there.

After the dinner, Susie strolls through the city before returning to the academy. Inside, she wanders into a passageway leading her up to a chamber where Blanc and the other matrons await with an incapacitated Klemperer. Overlooking the scene is a withered woman disfigured by cancerous growths, whom Blanc introduces as Mother Helena Markos—Susie is to be her new vessel. The entranced dancers enter the chamber and perform a ritualized dance, but it is interrupted when Susie reveals herself as Mother Suspiriorum, there to claim the academy and eradicate Mother Markos. She kills Markos and her most faithful matrons while sparing others, including Miss Huller. Blanc is nearly decapitated in the melee. Three of the dancers disguised as the Three Mothers reveal themselves as Sara, Olga, and Patricia. They plead for death, which is granted to them, and Susie commences a furious dance with the remaining dancers.

The following day, the academy resumes operations as usual. Miss Huller discovers Madame Blanc on the verge of death, but still alive. Meanwhile, Klemperer, who was spared, is met by Susie at his office. She discloses to him the fate of Anke, whom she says died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Upon touching him, he suffers a violent seizure that erases his memories, and Susie leaves.




Luca Guadagnino (left) originally optioned the film for David Gordon Green (right) to direct in 2007. After Green's film was canceled, Guadagnino took over directing the project with a new screenplay by David Kajganich

A remake of Suspiria (1977) was originally announced in 2008 by director David Gordon Green, who had co-written a script with his sound designer.[5][6] Luca Guadagnino had, in 2007, convinced the original film's creators Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi to allow him to option a remake of the film.[7] Guadagnino subsequently offered Green the opportunity to direct the project.[7] Green cast Isabelle Huppert and Janet McTeer, as well as Isabelle Fuhrman.[8] Green described his screenplay as "operatic."[8] He elaborated: "I love Argento’s film and we wrote a very faithful, extremely elegant opera ... I don’t mean musical opera, but it would be incredibly heightened music, and heightened and very operatic and elegant sets."[8] However, according to Green, conflicts with the studio financing the production resulted in the project being scrapped.[8]

In September 2015, at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, Guadagnino announced plans to direct a "remake" of Suspiria with the four main actors of his film A Bigger Splash (2015), which had premiered at the festival.[9] Guadagnino revealed that his version was to be set in Berlin circa 1977 (the year in which the original film was released), and would focus thematically on "the uncompromising force of motherhood."[10] Guadagnino has since said explicitly that the film is not a remake, but is instead an "homage" to the "powerful emotion" he felt when he first watched the original film.[11]


The screenplay was written by American writer David Kajganich, who had previously written Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash (2015), as well as developed the British television series The Terror.[12] Though Kajganich admitted to not being a fan of the original film, he agreed to write a screenplay for Guadagnino.[13] On writing the film, Kajganich stated:

Horror often loses me when it starts to no longer regard real people in a real world. And so, I said to Luca when he asked me would I ever be interested in joining him in this, I did say ‘I will take quite a practical approach if you’re okay with that. I would want to know how something like this could happen, how it would work, what the hierarchy of the coven would be, you know, all of those practical questions that normally aren’t maybe of interest to a typical horror film, whatever that is,’ and he was all for it. And so, I did quite a lot of research and to actual witchcraft and covens and we did quite a lot of research into the period that it’s set in, what was going on in feminist politics and feminist art then, and how were concerns being exploited from the inside out and how that might look inside of the context of the occult. And so, you know, we did try to ground it and how real people in these fantastical situations might behave.[14]

Kajganich chose to set the film in 1977—the year the original film was released—during the German Autumn.[13] The film begins shortly after the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181, in order to hint at "larger thematic concerns," specifically the youth's response to their parents' and grandparents' denial of German culpability in World War II.[13] Kajganich used the political tumult of the time as a means of contextualizing the central plot surrounding the Markos dance academy, "where an American is getting her education in a way in how a modern kind of fascism might look."[13] For inspiration, Kajganich studied women's literature of the period, as well as the films of German contemporary filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and "listened to a lot of [German singer] Nico."[13]


On November 23, 2015, Guadagnino confirmed[15] that Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson had been cast in the film and that shooting was scheduled to begin in August 2016, with release set for 2017.[16][17] Johnson was asked to play the part of Susie Bannion while filming Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash (2015).[18] After watching the original film, Johnson agreed to commit to the project.[18] "I was obviously really invested—really invested in Luca as a person, collaborator, artist," Johnson said. "You just want to go on any adventure with him."[18] Swinton, a friend and frequent collaborator of Guadagnino, was cast in three roles: Madame Blanc, the lead choreographer of the academy; Helena Markos, its decrepit matron; and Dr. Jozef Klemperer, a psychologist who becomes embroiled in the coven.[4] In the part of Klemperer, Swinton is credited as "Lutz Ebersdorf."[4]

In October 2016, Chloë Grace Moretz was cast as Patricia Hingle, a student who goes missing from the academy, while Mia Goth was cast as Sara, another one of the academy's dancers.[17][19] Moretz commented on her participation in the film: "It’s unlike any other directing process I have ever been a part of...  Luca is Luca and there’s kind of no mistaking it for anything else. He’ll let you do the craziest stuff on screen and won’t bat an eye, he’ll tell you to go farther."[20] Also cast at this time were Sylvie Testud, Angela Winkler, and Fabrizia Sacchi, each as matrons of the academy.[21][22] Fashion models Małgosia Bela[23] and Alek Wek[24] appear in their feature film debuts as Susie's mother and another of the academy matrons, respectively. Jessica Harper, who played Suzy Bannion in the original film, also joined the cast as Anke Meier, the wife of Klemperer who disappeared during the Nazi invasion.[14]

Lutz Ebersdorf[edit]

The role of Dr. Jozef Klemperer is portrayed by Tilda Swinton, although it is credited as played by an actor named Lutz Ebersdorf in the film and its promotional material, and the filmmakers maintained that Ebersdorf was a real psychoanalyst until a month after the film's premiere.[4]

In March 2017, photographs of a seemingly old man spotted on the film's set were published online, identifying the man as Swinton in heavy makeup.[25] In February 2018, Guadagnino called the claim "complete fake news", saying that the man was not Swinton but in fact a German actor named Lutz Ebersdorf in his screen debut, who plays a psychoanalyst named Jozef Klemperer in the film and is a psychoanalyst himself.[26] IndieWire questioned the veracity of Guadagnino's statement because of Ebersdorf's suspicious IMDb profile and otherwise lack of online presence. The film's casting director and executive producer Stella Savino responded to IndieWire, saying "the character of Dr. Klemperer has been played by Professor Lutz Ebersdorf, a psychoanalyst and not at all a professional actor", because Guadagnino wanted a real psychoanalyst for the role.[27] During a press conference following the film's September 1, 2018 premiere at Venice, Swinton read a letter purportedly written from Ebersdorf in lieu of his absence, which read: "I am a private individual who prefers to remain private ... Though I strongly suspect Suspiria will be the only film I ever appear in, I like the work, and I do not mind getting up very early."[28]

Writing for Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson reported that when the film screened at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, on September 23, 2018, the audience was certain that the role of Klemperer was played by Swinton. Robinson speculated that the filmmakers wrote the role and cast Swinton in order for the film to have both an outsider's perspective and a narrative of female power. By September 2018, IMDb had deleted Ebersdorf's profile and credited Swinton as playing Klemperer under the alias "Lutz Ebersdorf".[29]

In October 2018, Swinton told The New York Times that Dr. Klemperer was played by Lutz Ebersdorf and Ebersdorf was played by her. When asked why she played Ebersdorf, she said, "for the sheer sake of fun above all". Swinton asked the makeup department to make a prosthetic penis and wore it to get into the role. Swinton wrote Ebersdorf's IMDb biography herself.[30]


Building amidst trees on a mountainside
The Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiore in Varese served as the Markos Academy

Principal photography began in Varese, Italy on October 31, 2016.[31][32][33] The Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiori served as a stand-in for Markos Dance Academy.[34] Filming also took place at the Palazzo Estense.[35] Photography took place primarily in Varese from October to December 2016, before moving to Berlin, where it continued from February to March 2017.[36] Like its predecessor, Suspiria was shot on 35mm film stock.[37] Principal photography completed in Berlin on March 10, 2017.[38][39]

The elaborate dance sequences in the film required the actors to train, specifically Johnson, who trained extensively in the months leading up to the shoot.[18] In preparation, Johnson studied the work of German dancer Mary Wigman, and listened to various musical artists of the period, such as The Carpenters, Jefferson Airplane, and Nina Simone.[40] Johnson retrospectively commented that the filming process "fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy."[41] Johnson later expanded on this statement, saying that the filming process "was not traumatic" and instead "the most fun and the most exhilarating and the most joyful that it could be...  I find sometimes when I work on a project and — I don't have any shame in this — I'm a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people's feelings. When you're working sometimes with dark subject matter, it can stay with you and then to talk to somebody really nice about it afterwards is a really nice way to move on from the project."[42] She later elaborated:

[During the shoot] I was having nightmares, crazy nightmares. It’s not like the set was cursed. But it was not an easy, breezy shoot. It was cold and dark, and people were getting injured. I got injured. My character, Suzy [sic], has three to four dance numbers—well, she’s in all the dance numbers, really. Then she has audition pieces—it was a lot of physical activity, on top of acting. We’d shoot all day, then spend a couple of hours training in this cold, dank hotel. I hurt my back, then my muscle spasm got to a point where I couldn’t move. And there’s a language barrier, so it was difficult explaining my pain. Our first AD broke his leg—he fell onto one of the sets. It was a dangerous set. There were things like that that happened all the time.[18]


Post-production began on March 15, 2017.[36] In contrast to the original, Guadagnino's film uses no primary colours.[43] Guadagnino described the film's look as "winter-ish, evil, and really dark".[44]

Musical score[edit]

Radiohead singer Thom Yorke composed the score, his first feature film soundtrack. It features the London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir and Yorke's son Noah on drums.[45] He initially refused the offer, but accepted after months of requests from Guadagnino.[46] Much of the score was completed prior to the film shoot, which afforded Guadagnino the opportunity to play the musical score on set during filming.[7]

Yorke cited inspiration from the 1982 Blade Runner soundtrack,[47] musique concrète artists such as Pierre Henry,[46] modern electronic artists such as James Holden,[46] and music from the film's 1977 Berlin setting, such as krautrock.[48] He said: "There's a way of repeating in music that can hypnotise. I kept thinking to myself that it's a form of making spells. So when I was working in my studio I was making spells. I know it sounds really stupid, but that's how I was thinking about it."[48] The soundtrack will be released on October 26, 2018 by XL Records.[45] On September 4, Yorke released a song from the soundtrack, "Suspirium",[45] with lyrics inspired by the script.[46]


Suspiria held its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on September 1, 2018.[49][50] It is scheduled for a limited release in Los Angeles and New York on October 26, 2018.[51] Limited screenings beginning on Halloween night are scheduled for various U.S. cities, including Dallas,[52] Denver,[53] Portland (Oregon),[54] San Francisco,[55] Seattle,[56] Springfield (Missouri),[57] and Tempe.[58] The film will open wide in the United States on November 2, 2018.[51] It will be released in the United Kingdom by Mubi on November 16, 2018.[59]

A scene from the film was screened during a luncheon at the 2018 CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Nevada;[60] it was reported that the footage was so intense it reportedly "traumatized" those present.[61] The scene presented featured Johnson in character performing in a ballet studio for her demanding instructor, played by Tilda Swinton, intercut with scenes of another woman in that same studio at a different time whose body is being contorted and mangled by every movement Johnson makes.[62] Peter Sciretta of SlashFilm described the scene as "Very gruesome and hard to watch. This film will make most people feel uneasy."[63]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 73% based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads "Suspiria attacks heady themes with garish vigor, offering a viewing experience that's daringly confrontational - and definitely not for everyone."[64] On Metacritic, the film has an average weighted score of 75 out of 100 based on 19 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[65]

David Ehrlich wrote in IndieWire that Suspiria is sure to be "the most polarizing film since mother!" and then said, "[i]t's more gross than it is creepy, and more elegiac than it is gross."[66] Robbie Collin of The Telegraph gave the film a five-star rating and commented that it's a "slow burner" that surpasses the original 1977 film.[67] David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter criticized the film as "unnecessarily drawn out" with "too many discursive shifts to build much tension".[68] Slant Magazine's Greg Cwik, though praising of the cinematography, noted: "Suspiria is a largely befuddling accumulation of shots and sounds that never coalesce...  This Suspiria is all the more vexing because there are shades of brilliance here, and because Guadagnino is so obviously a talented artist who wanted so badly to make a Great Film but fell victim to his own enthusiasm."[69]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film three out of five stars, describing it as "more an MA thesis than a remake"; he wrote: "There are smart moments of fear and subliminal shivers of disquiet, the dance sequences are good and of course Guadagnino could never be anything other than an intelligent film-maker. But this is a weirdly passionless film. The spark of pure diabolical craziness of Argento has gone, together with his brash streak of black comedy, and in its place is something determinedly upscale and uppermiddlebrow, with indigestible new layers of historical meaning added."[70] Stephanie Zacharek of Time was critical of the 1977 Germany setting: "The political backdrop is an extra layer of needless complication. Guadagnino is thinking too much and feeling too little."[71] Zacharek said that the actors "do what is asked of them," but that "not even [Swinton's] powers are enough to reanimate the gray corpse of this Suspiria."[71]

For, Glenn Kenny gave the film an unfavorable review, writing: "This empty, overstuffed, ugly and thoughtless remake—Guadagnino apparently prefers the term 'cover version'—of the grindhouse-surreal 1977 film directed by Dario Argento is a breathtaking achievement in hollow, know-somethingish sensationalism that fully deserves to be called 'pretentious.' And quite a few other things."[72] Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote of the film: "The first time I saw Guadagnino’s Suspiria, I came out pretty much covered in gore, and confounded by the surfeit of stories. Can a splash be so big that it drowns the senses? How does such a film cohere? The second time around, I followed the flow, and found that what it led to was not terror, or disgust, but an unexpected sadness."[73] Alex Hudson of Exclaim! gave the film 5/10 and wrote, "[the] pretentiousness is the most charming thing about this otherwise silly, overly ambitious mess." [74]


On September 27, 2018, it was reported that the film's American distributor, Amazon Studios, was being sued for copyright infringement by the estate of artist Ana Mendieta.[75] The suit, filed in a federal court in Seattle, Washington, alleges that two images present in the film's teaser trailer were taken from Mendieta's work.[75] The first is an image of a woman's hands bound with rope on a white table, allegedly derived from Mendieta's Untitled (Rape Scene), and the other is the red silhouette of a body imprinted on a bedsheet, which was claimed to have been derived from her Silueta series.[75] A cease and desist letter had previously been delivered to Amazon in July over the images, and they were not included in the subsequent theatrical trailer released the following month.[75] According to the suit, both images had been excised from the film, but an alleged eight others bore notable similarities to other works by Mendieta.[75]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Venice Film Festival September 8, 2018 Golden Lion Suspiria Nominated [76]
Queer Lion Suspiria Nominated
Premio Soundtrack Stars for Best Original Song "A Suspirium" by Thom Yorke Won
La Pellicola d'Oro Award for Special Effects Franco Ragusa Won

Possible sequel[edit]

In an interview with Deadline, Guadagnino revealed that the original title for the film was Suspiria: Part One, which was changed so as not to reflect something that could not be considered a standalone work. However, he admitted interest in further exploring the origins of characters Madame Blanc and Helena Markos, and also the future of Susie Bannion – provided the film is a success at the box office.[79]


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