With all the horror remakes littering the cinematic landscape that plundered hungrily from the 70’s and 80’s, it’s frankly amazing to me that it’s only taken until now for someone to retro-fit a Dario Argento movie for today’s audiences.
Arguably Agento’s finest movie (although a healthy case could be made for Deep Red), and co-conceived by muse/partner/ex wife/Asia Argento’s mum Daria Nicolodi, Suspira was a techicolor blast to the senses, utilizing garish colours, uncompromising dream logic and a pounding score by progressive rock band Goblin. Stunningly beautiful, viciously violent and endlessly haunting, The Biggest Splash director Luca Guadagnino had a huge task ahead of him attempting to adapt a genuine horror original. Was he successful, even with friend and national treasure Tilda Swinton in tow?
If he doesn’t, he comes pretty close….
First things first. While the original Supiria was and still is a masterpiece in hallucinatory terror, the plot is paper thin. And as well it should be, as the tale of a witches coven running and corrupting the students at a dance academy in Berlin is supposed to play as a dread soaked fairy tale for adults. Guadagnino’s redo comes loaded with backstory, characterization and a time and setting that is ripped straight out of history leading to a somewhat hefty running time.
The basic story stays intact, as done the 70’s setting a German locale, but where the original operated in it’s own fantasy bubble, Suspiria ’18 stares the plolitics surrounding the Berlin Wall square in the eye.
If the 70’s original felt Prog-Rock, the remake plays like interpretative dance (sometimes literally) as maximum levels of unsettling dance numbers are carried out with minimum music, the sounds of heels, knees and bodies thumping onto the cold wooden floors are our only soundtrack as the dancer’s bodies arch and flex as if they are possessed. The shooting style, while not gliding around the sets like Argento’s original works, still adapts some curious habits from Italian horror cinema from the 70’s and 80’s using unpolished whip pans and crash zooms to create a sense of unease.
The cast here snap into their roles perfectly, Dakota Johnson, all red of hair and shy of face gives a tremendous blank slate of a girl, almost desperate to be taught and lead, uncaring to what dark paths it may lead to and what it may cost, while Mia Goth does all the dot connecting and plot propelling in a supporting role (a very Argento trope, giving the traditional hero role to a lesser character while the lead wanders through the chaos) but it’s the peerless Tilda Swinton as the torn Madame Blanc (and the elderly MALE role of Dr. Jozef Klemperer, AND the deformed owner of the school, Madame Markos) that truly makes the experience that Suspiria is. She gives each role such focus that anything short of an Oscar nomination would be an absolute crime. As Blanc she quietly tries to balance the needs of her fractured coven with the mothering instincts she feels for her students and as Klemperer the deep loss he feels for his wife, missing since the war, it’s truly something to witness.
Problems? Only two real ones. In this age of intelligent horror deviding audiences clean down the middle like two halves of a malevolent Oreo. Once again, fright fans looking for some simple gore and a jump scare or two will most likely be frustrated with the whole experience as per usual. Secondly (and this is a more personal reason), those of you familiar with the stripped back, beautifully simplistic original will have the nagging feeling that all the additional weight of all the sub-plots and new characters are simply unnessesary and that no horror film needs to be two and a half hours long.
Despite this, Suspiria is still an affecting experience with a killer central performance.
Time for an unnessesary witch-based pun to finish the review?
They’re Coven up so you’d better get this party started.