Suspiria is a great movie. It’s also unforgiving and impenetrable if your only understanding of horror is limited to Hollywood’s usual offerings of slashers and thrillers. As a throwback to the Italian Giallo films of yesteryear, Suspiria douses its audience in an orgasmic fountain of blood and rhythmic dancing as it presents a twist ending that may require a second viewing to fully grasp.

Consider this the CliffNotes then — with words from screenwriter David Kajganic — to understanding what happened beneath the Markos Dance Academy.

Spoilers for Suspiria ahead.

In Suspiria, a bold remake of Dario Argento’s classic 1977 film, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) travels abroad from Ohio to Berlin to study dance at an elite school run by the enigmatic Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). As the audience quickly learns, the Markos Dance Academy is a front for a coven of witches, who find girls to become vessels for their ancient deities.

In a big departure from the original, director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and Kajganich turn Susie into a candidate to become the new body for the old, deformed Mother Helena Markos. The climax of the film, which takes place beneath the school, is the ritual to transfer Markos into Susie’s body, but they quickly realize how much of a mistake that is.

As it turns out, Susie is already the vessel for the über-powerful Mother Suspiriorum, who unleashes her wrath against the school.

As the film’s screenwriter explains, the turmoil inside the academy is parallel to the political turmoil taking place right outside, as Berlin has become heavily divided during the conflict of the Cold War.

Suspiria Dakota Johnson
Dakota Johnson plays "Susie," who is chosen by her school's coven to become the vessel for Mother Helena Markos.

“The coven understands there is a lot of opportunity, in terms of fractures, in the world around them,” Kajganich explains. “If they can get their house in order, they can influence the world quite a lot in the coming years.”

Their chief order of business: Find a new body for their leader, Helena Markos, so she can survive into the new era. “It’s made mention that her soul is intact but her body is so old and kept alive artificially through magic to the point they can’t continue to do it,” says Kajganich. “They need a new, young women’s body to put her in so that she can continue to lead the coven.”

Patricia, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, is revealed to be part of a botched attempt by the coven to transfer Markos into a new body.

“In one of the conversations between matrons, Patricia died during the process,” he says. “So they identify a woman more willing than Patricia, and that’s when they notice Susie. She seems to be powerful in her own self but interested in a way Patricia wasn’t.”

And that becomes the witches’ undoing. “They just don’t get the nature of that interest.”


Suspiria is now playing in NY and LA. It hits theaters across the county on Friday, November 2.

Photos via Amazon Studios