AMAZON STUDIOS (2018)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk
Let the strangeness begin…
Dario Argento’s seminal 1977 horror-trip Suspiria remains to this day one of the more bizarre horror flicks – in part due to its overwhelming colour palette, the masterfully odd score by Goblin and the visceral imagery. To say it wasn’t really a front-runner for a remake is an understatement, it seemed to belong to its time and was most effective because of it. However, here in 2018, by the hand of Luca Guadagnino, we have that remake – or more accurately, a reimagining.
In the bleakness of 1977 Berlin, a dance school continues its feverish pursuit of perfection. One dancer, Patricia (Moretz), arrives at a psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer’s (a male played by Tilda Swinton) office, convinced something sinister is occurring at the school – witchcraft. As she mysteriously disappears, amateur dancer Susie Bannion (Johnson) arrives from Ohio to enrol (having spent years studying the dances). Her primal routine beguiles the school's matriarch Madame Blanc (Swinton) and she works her way up to lead dancer position. However, amongst the choreography and the outside terror alerts, darker things lurk beneath the floorboards and seemingly the teachers are all in on it.
There really are no movies that can't be remade (yes, even The Exorcist , though I’ll fight you over it), simply just some that begs the question, “why should they be?” Suspiria falls into the latter. The original wasn’t so perfect that it demanded to remain untouched, however, there’s nothing about it that screams the need for a re-evaluation, it’s perfectly serviceable as it is. What 2018’s Suspiria gets right is the fact that it doesn’t just replicate what made the original so bizarre and successful. Gone are the unnervingly wacky colours and sharp angles that defined the visual look and in their place is a muted, grimy colour palette that captures the grim atmosphere of Berlin at that time. DoP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom instead delivers some gorgeous shots and framing that gives Suspiria a seductive, artistic feel. Goblin’s trippy score has been replaced by Thom Yorke’s pulsating, yearning efforts and, again, the music throughout is on-point and effective.
The all-female cast (bar two policeman stealing about 90 seconds worth of screen time) are captivating and magnetic. Dakota Johnson’s wide-eyed naivety as Susie adds to the suspense and intrigue as she is thrust into the macabre happenings and her dance scenes were excellent (apparently she trained for two years in order to perfect them). Tilda Swinton portrays three characters (including one male) and her Madame Blanc carries a threatening air whenever she is on screen. Mia Goth is excellent as Sara and she provides the audience with a character to relate to as she becomes the focus for a lot of the movie. Across the board, the performances impress in all of their quirkiness and variances.
The six-act structure (and epilogue) that Guadagnino utilises is interesting and not always successful. Like the chapters of a book, it sets the audience up for what may come and allows for some foreshadowing. I would have preferred a straight narrative, but it wasn’t a bad convention. The overall runtime, however, is too long and Suspiria could have benefitted from having some of its more plodding moments trimmed (or some of the word-heavy exchanges cut down). I wasn’t overly enamoured with the terrorist subplot – obviously, it was there to expand on the world and allow for some grounding to the story, but the lack of any payoff makes it feel shoehorned in. On the flipside, Suspiria is not short on horrifying imagery – not by a long shot. Bones are snapped and cracked, bodies mutilated, skulls explode in rhythmic fashion and there’s an ocean-load of blood, and pretty much all of it works (bar some dodgy CGI that the lighting tries to hide) and it’s fair to say this movie will shock some viewers. The menacing atmosphere that Guadagnino creates, as well as the mind-bendingly bizarre montages and nastier horror moments, really does create a unique and unsettling tone throughout, even in those slower moments. At times, it reminded me of Black Swan, which itself had vast shades of Suspiria, and mother! - though the overall quality is higher here.
A rumination of the power that women possess, Suspiria is a beautiful, slow, startling, surprising, and bloody experience all at once. Is it as good as that 1977 original? That’s up to you, but it certainly doesn’t attempt to be it. It won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure, and if you can remain patient with the drawn-out runtime, you’re going to be very satisfied come the movies conclusion.
November 16th 2018