The new film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by David Kajganich under the title of Suspiria is a remake of the 1977 Dario Argento film also titled Suspiria. It's official, in the credits and everything, and they share the same plot: an American girl named Susie Bannion ("Suzy" in the original) travels to Germany in 1977 to study ballet at an internationally renowned school. It turns out that the school is a coven for witches, founded by a Greek immigrant named Helena Markos, and currently run (or is it?) by ballet mistress Madame Blanc and head instructor Mrs. Tanner.

Suspiria 2.0 is, moreover, just about the best imaginable kind of remake, because despite everything I've said so far, it's really not a remake of Suspiria 1.0 at all. It is a wholly different movie using the same ingredients for entirely different reasons, sort of like how the same handful of ingredients can make a chiffon cake or sourdough bread, based mostly just on how you're handling them. Hell, other than due to force of habit, and the presence of some extremely violent supernatural murders, I would seriously consider whether the new Suspiria is even a horror movie, whereas the old Suspiria is essentially nothing other than pure horror running lose through the very medium of cinema itself.

This is great for a number of reasons: it eradicates any interest I have in comparing the two, and since the original is one of my very favorite movies ever made, it's nice not to have the pressure; it also means that Nu-spiria feels entirely like it's own thing, never once raising the objection, "yes, but why am I not just watching this other thing?" And indeed, I don't know what other thing I might be watching - I do mean that the new film feels entirely like its own thing, broadly belonging to the grand corpus of European art cinema and sharing affinities with a few specific examples (the most obvious of which, though perhaps not the most important, is Andrzej Żuławski's 1981 "squid-fucking in a divided Berlin" drama Possession), but it's really amazing how much a remake using 1970s Euro-art tropes in 2018 can feel so sui generis in so many ways.

I've already sketched out the plot as far as it's rational to do so, so to flesh things out: Susie, this time around, is played by Dakota Johnson, and Madame Blanc is played by Tilda Swinton, and there are several various ballet trainees and witchy ballet teachers. Kajganich also: adds a very important brand new subplot: the story of Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton, under the name "Lutz Ebersdorf", sporting immaculately persuasive ancient old man makeup, and a pretty damn unpersuasive attempt at a male voice), the psychiatrist to another American student at the Markos Dance Academy, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz, putting in what amounts to no more than a cameo). She's uncovered all of the secrets of the Markos witch cult, which worships one or all of a trio of primeval spiritual entities, known as the Three Mothers: Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and, you guessed it, Mater Suspiriorum. While Susie starts to notice increasingly weird shit going on around her, and an almost supernatural essence pushing her dance skills to unimaginable new levels, and Madame Blanc attempts to wrest control of the coven from the increasingly unreliable but still tyrannical Mother Markos, Klemperer puts on his amateur detective hat, trying to figure out what the hell is going on at the Markos Academy. Being a properly sullen post-war man of science, he doesn't for a minute believe it's witches, but something is up, and Patricia has certainly gone missing all of a sudden.

Writing about the new Suspiria is even trickier than writing about the old Suspiria, which a fucking bizarre movie that can mostly be summed up as "paranormal evil causes nightmarish breakdown of subjective reality, rendered visually". The new film is going for so unbelievably much more than that, which does mean that it misses more of its targets. But even a partial hit rate still gives this many amazing successes over 152 minutes that I definitely felt, but don't end up feeling all that very indulgent. On paper, this is a more rational, explicable Suspiria, starting with its frank acknowledgement that yep, they're witches, and yep, they're real, almost right at the start of the film. Yet despite its grounded, I might even say realist approach, Guadagnino and Kajganich and company keep the film operating in an almost impossibly oblique register for nearly all of those minutes, and all of the first five of the "six parts and an epilogue in divided Berlin" it announces apparently in lieu of a title. Apparently: the sharp-eyed will note that as Susie arrives in town in the film's first scene, she walks past a subway sign in the upper-left corner of the frame reading "Suspiria", which I doubt very much is the name of an actual subway station. That's not a mere frippery: it's the closest the film will ever come to explaining how to watch it, explaining that we're going to need to be on our toes and collecting a lot of data to make sense of what follows, and there will be many important things which the film will not in any way be pointing us towards.

It is, as a result, the kind of movie easier to talk about in its huge gestures than in the fine ways it gets to those gestures. It is about The Weight of History; Klemperer, it is persistently implied, fucked up somehow during the war, and has put off expiating for his sins. It is about The Creative Impulse of Women: by stripping the witch coven of most of its horror - one really hideous scene of violence in which Susie's dancing channels psychokinetic energy to wrench all the limbs of another girl out of place and leave her in a sickening pile of greying flesh and human fluids, and that's mostly it for the first 85% of the movie - Suspiria instead focuses on the witches as performers of feminine power in a culture that has never had much use for strong women, and since WWII has outright hated them. It is Both Of These At Once: Madame Blanc's magnum opus is a violent group dance attempting to allegorise the psychological dislocation of post-war Europe as it particularly affected women. And, good Lord, is it ever about Motherhood: three mothers, plus Susie's perpetual memories of her dying mother back in Ohio, underneath a needlepoint sampler informing us that a mother is someone who can replace anyone, and be replaced by nobody. Which is both the film's guiding principle, and a rather grotesque joke, as it turns out.

It's also, more generally, about not being ready to deal with the things you call up: Klemperer, dull man of reason, isn't equipped to cope with the guilt that his investigation is necessarily going to lead to, Susie seemingly can't funnel the eldritch forces fascinated by her intuitive grasp of pure dance, the witches don't seem to understand what worshipping a primeval force like Mater Suspiriorum actually means. This last bit leads to film's astounding climax, one that is clearly dividing the viewers who have fallen on the "I liked it" side of this even more clearly divisive movie: it's a moral reckoning, in which the film's obliqueness and ambivalence on all levels is cleaved away by a blast of pure sensory attack, one that slaps the viewer around for thinking we've gotten a handle on this impossibly slippery movie as fully as it punishes the characters who suppose that unspeakable forces of primitive spiritual energy can be corralled into nice little witch covens, or tidy allegorical stories about the post-war experience. At one point, Madame Blanc denies that beauty can exist anymore; a character in the climax, in thrall to some great passion, declares that what we are viewing is itself pure beauty, but it is a terrifying beauty if so. The film's ending is, absolutely, a violation: visually loud and lurid in its bright ed coloring, where the look till then has been soft and muted; sickeningly ironic in its musical choices, where the film has been blessed by Thom Yorke's almost indistinct range of dreamy drones in the score, almost always just barely failing to cohere into a melody. It embraces the fevered Argento-ness of the material when we have been fully lulled into thinking this is all austere art cinema and character drama., and I 100% loved it.

But then, I also 95% loved all the rest, too. Like I said, it's hard to talk about the fine details, but not impossible. And those fine details can be quite amazing. The film is, I'm almost comfortable saying, Guadagnino's best ever, or at least his best since 2009's I Am Love, his third feature and the first that he hasn't quasi-disowned. Like that film - like all his films - Suspiria is about the expression of impossibly strong emotions through intensified aesthetic presence. Sheer, erotic, surface-level plushness in I Am Love; sweaty, urgent, terrified desire in 2015's A Bigger Splash; dreamy, humid, cozy lust in 2017's Call Me by Your Name. The difference is that where those films are all fundamentally horny, Suspiria is chilled and repressed: the great cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom has replaced Call Me's gauzy summer with a damp, almost unlikably crisp sense of wintry grey. That's built right into the mise en scène; 1977 Berlin is a place of much hard concrete, notably with the bleak face of the Wall standing right across the street from the Markos Dance Academy, itself a freakish Bauhaus hulk of implacable cement pillars arranged in an inexplicable half-circle, a million miles away from the trite, cute Southern German charm of the Freiburg Dance Academy in the original film. But it's also found in the film's nasty-minded under-saturation, etching everything sharply in browns and greys that have been muted in a willful perversion of the original Suspiria with its blasts of Technicolor excess. The choking chill of the movie hangs over the characters, who feel like lost souls in a Existentialist sense, rather than the pure fairy tale vibe of the original; it turns Suspiria into a film of people locked in their present and their past with no apparent control over what happens to them.

Besides the purely visual, the film's great strength, unless it is the film's most terrible failure, is its absolutely wild, aggressively indistinct structure. I mean this both at the level of scenes and whole chapters, which proceed with clear forward momentum - this is a fatalist, doomy film, one that feels like it's moving ceaselessly towards whatever terrible thing the characters don't comprehend yet - but also without any sense of anything happening. It is a movie made up of many disconnected present-tense sequences, never quite informing each other, never quite building. The first film did something similar to a much different end, creating a tumbling sense of dream logic; this time, it seems to be more about suggesting the emptiness and confusion of life in a version of Germany where things are simply not right, where there has been in some sense no development or forward motion since 1945. And it also goes into the very individual, personal stories of Klemperer and his guilt and Susie and her unloving relationship with her mother.

But I also mean "indistinct" in terms of the beat-by-beat cutting. I made no secret of finding Call Me by Your Name a beautiful, shimmering movie marred by some of the most absolutely shitty editing, and objectively, Suspiria is even worse (the films share editor Walter Fasano). But there is a different between ethereal character dramas about love and existential character dramas about drowning in a corrupt, broken world, and I think Suspiria's frankly bizarre cutting patterns are all designed with a focus and precision that the earlier film lacked. Among its many subjects, Suspiria is very much about dance itself, a projection of bodies into empty spaces, and the editing underscores this every single time. The dances themselves are pieced together with amazing violence: one begins to feel like the dancers' movements are themselves the angry stabs of some ghostly knife, slicing apart the tender medium of the film. And this is, though never quite so openly, how all the cutting works - it is vicious and violent cutting, cutting which darts across the continuity of the film, cutting which feels deeply unsafe and leaves the film raw and unstable and primed with potential energy, even when the action itself is staid and hesitant.

That being said, if you told me, "nope, it's sloppy and incoherent", I don't think I could possibly argue against you. Suspiria is a sprawling movie, full to the brim with ideas and not all of them play; in particular, the film's setting during the German Autumn, a period of turmoil and radical left agitation, leads it to incorporate a real event as a major narrative structuring element. This is the October hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, demanding the release of the imprisoned leaders of the Red Army Faction, and it doesn't do much of anything at all for the film. Dropped in as a little taste of the times, it could have provided a reminder that 1977 was a tumultuous, broken moment; it could easily reinforce the radical feminist overtones, as well as calling attention to the film's argument that the older German generations had failed to do the kind of self-reflection that would have kept revolutionary violence from becoming necessary. But it's not dropped in, it's fucking ladled in, providing a fairly huge subplot that does, near as I can tell, not one damn thing; it's the one obvious indulgence in a film that wouldn't have hurt itself by trimming some minutes off its running time.

And that's with me loving the film - I can easily imagine somebody not swept up in the film's dizzying opacity finding much more of it half-formed and irritating, maybe even all of it. But that's what swinging for the fences is all about, and by Christ, Suspiria is swinging with all its might. It's a thorny, angry, hard movie about society, and a dreamily transporting reverie of a movie about dance, and a deceptively calm, rational movie until it explodes into raw horror that almost reads more as triumph than as victory. It is, at any rate, one of the most you-have-to-grapple-with-this movies of 2018, and I am enormously pleased to suspect that it will one day join its legendary predecessors in the annals of the great fucked-up Italian exercises in pure excess.