In an era where every successful horror film seems to get remade, it was just a matter of time before somebody got around to redoing Dario Argento’s 1977 classic Suspiria. Unlike many remakes, however, the director of this movie, Luca Guadagnino, has declared his film to be “an homage” rather than a “remake.” This would seem to be a fair description as Guadagnino takes Argento’s story of a dance school run by a coven of evil witches and inserts themes such as the Nazi holocaust, Cold War Berlin, and terrorism into the mix. He also goes overboard playing with different camera angles, looking for different ways to frame even the most mundane behaviors. In the end he produces something more akin to an Art-house film than a movie directed at horror fans.
Guadagnino’s Suspiria is a visually arresting movie in many respects. The camera is rarely static and scenes are framed in ways that draw the audience’s attention. While it eschews the over-the-top, Technicolor-like look of Argento’s original, this version composes scenes and imagery that are horrific and memorable. There is both an artistic and obscene quality to much of what is presented, making for a unique presentation.
Where the film falls down is in its length. As much as I tend to be a fan of director’s cuts and artistic freedom, this is one instance where I would have welcomed some studio interference. There is no justification for this to have gone on for two and half hours, with much of that time taken up by shots of people walking down halls, going up stairs, sitting in bed, etc. The director was clearly enjoying framing these shots and scenes, but they do little to advance the story or create an atmosphere of menace.
Similarly, the end of the movie departs significantly from the original and I found what Guadagnino chose to do with the protagonist, Susie Bannion (played by Dakota Johnson) to be pretentious and silly. I also didn’t see what the film gained by adding in the German historical themes that it did. Presumably the director was tying them in to the idea of Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs) that lies at the heart of both Suspiria movies. However, the connections are never made clear and, to my mind, actually detract from the tale of a dark, pagan entity pulling evil witches into its power. This is one case where I wish a studio had come in and cut out all the extraneous material and inserted an ending that was more focused on telling a quality horror tale.
In total, Guadagnino’s Suspiria has all the makings of an engaging horror tale but gets lost in a filmmaker masturbating with his camera. Legitimately interesting camera framing becomes self-indulgent as the film goes on for too long, losing its focus and introducing themes that are extraneous. The soundtrack is acceptable, but fails to measure up to the mesmerizing sounds of the original. There are the ingredients of a quality remake here, but in the end I see little reason to sit through this when we have the classic original.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
American dancer Susie Bannion arrives in 1970s Berlin hoping to join the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Company. In her very first rehearsal, Susie stuns the company’s famed choreographer, Madame Blanc, with her talent, vaulting to the position of lead dancer. Olga, the previous lead, breaks down and accuses the “Mothers” who run the company of being witches. But before she can flee, she is captured and tortured by a mysterious force somehow connected to Susie’s dancing. Despite these early warning signs, Susie continues her rise to the top of the dance academy at all costs. As rehearsals continue for the final performance of the company’s signature piece, “Volk,” Susie and Madame Blanc grow strangely close, suggesting that Susie’s purpose in the dance company goes beyond dancing.
Meanwhile, psychotherapist Dr. Klemperer discovers a disturbing diary from his patient, a former Markos dancer named Patricia, outlining an ancient demonic religion practiced by the Mothers. After Patricia mysteriously disappears, the doctor tries to alert the police but gets nowhere. Taking matters into his own hands, he approaches a dancer named Sara for help. Following their meeting, Sara ventures into the depths of the dance studio’s hidden chambers, where strange and horrific discoveries await.
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Sylvie Testud, Lutz Ebersdorf, with Jessica Harper and Chloë Grace Moretz
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Music by: Thom Yorke