- Movie Rating -

Suspiria (2018)

| December 15, 2018

I enter into my review of Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Suspira knowing full-well that I stand as a lone wolf in my glowing adoration.  As of this writing, the movie sits on Rotten Tomatoes at a rather chilly 63% but, personally, I have no use for such metrics.  I go to see the movie for the art and the entertainment, not the statistics.  I don’t care about critical analysis, nor about weekend the box office – they are mere curiosity, a measuring stick that have no basis in logic.  As a critic, what I can report is how the movie worked on me.  Honestly, the remake of Suspiria is not going to please everyone, but for me it rose far above my expectations.  Going in, I expected a colorful and glossy rehashing of scenes recreated from Dario Argento’s 1977 horror perennial with a new coat of paint and little else.  What I got was a new approach, a better fuller story, more interesting characters and, I’ll say it, one of the best films of the year.

My adoration for Guadagnino’s remake might come from my initial exposure to Argento’s original.  I saw the original for the first time back in October and, I’m sorry, I wasn’t all that impressed.  Yes, the visuals were impressive – Argento doesn’t know how to make an uninteresting shot.  But there was a central drive to the story that was missing, a central human element that as a viewer kept me sitting outside of the film rather than dipping my feet into it.

With the remake, all of those problems have disappeared and that largely comes from the fact that it is being directed by Luca Guadagnino, a director whose narrative style is largely absent of money shots or peak moments.  If you’ve seen his other films like I Am Love or A Bigger Splash or last year’s Best Picture nominee Call Me By Your Name then you know that the flow of his scenes is unhurried, absent of any kind of broken-glass editing.  His scenes run on a bit longer than we might otherwise expect so that tension and mood are earned and the characters are allowed to have moments of internal and external emotion – we sit with his characters rather than being tied to their ankle as they run from one highpoint to the next.

I’m not able to pin down the one single element that is pushing me toward such love for Guadagnino’s revision of Suspiria.  On the basis of my usual taste, it seems to be a rejection of what I am normally drawn to.  It’s an unsettling, blood-soaked gore-fest, a movie that begins with intrigue and ends with a vomitorium of exploding heads and other various abominations.  And yet, there’s a point to all of it.  This remake of Suspiria isn’t simply art for art’s sake (or worse, a joyless cash grab), it’s a commentary on the underworld that threatens to rear its ugly head, taking advantage of the world outside seems to be off of its guard.

What is new in this version that was absent in Argento’s is a measure of logic beneath the madness, a historical setting that almost makes the idea of a vicious, blood-thirsty witches coven seem logical and even inevitable.  This is West Berlin in 1977 and the troubled world inside of a famous dance academy (an elaborate front for a murderous witch’s cult) is matched by the troubles outside.  The central theme of this film is the futility of escaping one’s past, and while there are problems inside the dance academy, outside of the school Berlin is virtually at war with itself: the city still struggling to find its identity a generation and a half after the crushing devastation of Hitler’s war.  Attacks by the ultra-leftist Baader-Meinhoff group is set brilliantly against the rot and ruin that is taking place in the walls of Helena Markos Dance Academy.

Rather than recreate Argento’s bold technicolor style, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom instead gives us a rather dowdy visual palette with only occasional pops of color.  And rather than recreate Argento’s hell-mouth visuals, Guadignino uses time and place to give us a sense how the film’s horrors manifest.  If you’ve seen the original then you know the story.  A young ballet student Susie Banion (Dakota Johnson) comes to study at West Berlin’s prestigious Helena Markos Dance Academy.  Entering the school’s hallowed halls, Susie has arrived at a rather troubling moment.  A young student named Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) has disappeared.  On her last night on Earth she burst out of the rain into the office of her psychiatrist Dr. Klemperer (played as a man by Tilda Swinton) babbling some seemingly paranoid nonsense about covens of bloodthirsty witches.  Later when Susie begins to ask question, it’s all blown off as just a confused young girl lost in a world bidding her no attention.

Inside the Escher-like walls of the dance academy, a confusing construction of long hallways, staircases and mirrored rooms, Susie is a stranger in a strange land.  Her long, red Laura Ingalls-like braided hair is a through line; at the beginning it is the only bit of color in this drab world that over time will brim with hues of red pushing us through, revealing colors slowly until the brash blood-soaked climax – the horror is literally bubbling up from under the surface.  That undercurrent runs all through the film, and so too does the futility of the education of dance here.  Susie, very quietly, is as war with the studio’s headmistress Madame Blanc (Swinton again) and their psychic connection becomes more and more of an Earthly challenge, a battle of wills to which even Susie isn’t completely aware.

How does such a sweet girl become such a fierce mental warrior?  The tao of Susie, it turns out, is brilliantly established in flashbacks to her strict Mennonite background growing up on an Ohio farm.  Dance has been on her mind since she was a child, and having arrived at Markos legendary halls, she takes to the dance studio like a prisoner finally paroled, a dancer whose feet have been chained to the floor.  Her uneasy (and unhealthy) unspoken bond with Madame Blanc may not be such a good thing, for something wicked this way comes.

Really, I’ve probably said too much already.  There are textures and themes here that are both brilliant and troubling, and will frustrate fans of the original.  This is not the original, nor does it try to be.  This movie is on a whole different trek, and that’s what draws me to it.  Horror movies are a dime a dozen these days, and most feed off of one gimmick and run it through as if the director were asleep.  Here is a rare horror movie made with artistry and style and with a bold and unapologetic sense of madness.  When you get to the film’s third act you will have either checked out or embraced the film as I did.  Is it one of the best films of the year?  I think so, though few would agree.  I’m enthralled by the brashness of this film, of its audacity to try to be about so many things, to be terrifying on its own ground rather than be a juggling act for a passive audience.  There are horrors both internal and external here – this is a scary movie!  It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2018) View IMDB Filed in: Horror