There really is no one on Earth that can top the combined forces of Dario Argento and Goblin’s excellent “Suspiria,” so Luca Guadagnino doesn’t even try. Instead, this new version of “Suspiria” is less a remake and more of a new tale in the same universe, or a spiritual sequel if you really want to get technical. Luca Guadagnino definitely approaches his spin on “Suspiria” with about as much ambition and enthusiasm he can muster up and what results is a wonky, surreal, bizarre, and yet overstuffed six act horror film that never quite knows when to call it quits. That said, “Suspiria” will most definitely acquire a fan base and I assume years from now fans will debate on whether this or Argento’s original is the superior film.
Set in the 1977, American dancer Susie Bannion has always been drawn to the allure of Berlin, and arrives in the middle of the city to audition for the world renowned Helena Markos Dance Co. Stunned by her sheer ability to perform, Susan Bannion wins over the faculty and lands the role of lead dancer, and begins to stir up tension when the dancer she replaces begins to gradually break down and form accusations of witchcraft on the all female faculty. As the auditions heat up and intensify for a much anticipated performance, a very curious psychotherapist known as Dr. Klemperer begins to investigate as a member of the troupe turns to him for help, claiming the women in the school are a coven of witches. As he and Susan begin uncovering the many hidden rooms and odd goings on within the walls of the dance school much to their peril, a sinister, almost incomprehensible secret is gradually uncovered.
As for me, Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” ends up as just a fine horror drama. I would be hard pressed to call it great, and I would be lying if I described as a masterpiece, but as a remake it accomplishes what it sets out to. Luca Guadagnino doesn’t tone down the grizzly violence of the original; nor does he copy Argento’s film beat for beat. Instead just about everything in this remake is different, save for the school of dancers that is being run by a coven of very powerful and evil witches known as “The Mothers.” There’s always something going on in “Suspiria” that it’s almost impossible to turn away and focus on something else. Luca Guadagnino injects so much detail and punctuation within every shot, and it requires a keen eye to decode what ends up becoming a cryptic horror film. Like the original “Suspiria,” Luca Guadagnino doesn’t opt for straight forward storytelling, but instead drifts back and forth between characters and establishing the world that these characters inhabit.
When we meet Susan Bannion, we gradually begin to realize that these aren’t people living in a world so much as they are victims being propped up by a sinister force to become lambs for the slaughter. There’s a lot less focus on color and bold pastels, as director Guadagnino opts for a starker and paler depiction of this descent in to evil and views this backdrop of Berlin as perhaps a land that’s been slowly sapped of its life by the darkness residing in this school. Guadagnino directs a stellar cast, all of whom provide top notch performances all around. The stand outs are, of course, Dakota Johnson (and her large expressive eyes) and Tilda Swinton. The latter whom is so painfully deserving of an Oscar nomination as she doesn’t just offer one brilliant performance, but three incredibly convincing performances with three vastly different characters. Swinton drops herself in to the world of Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” and her dramatic turn is mesmerizing.
That said, “Suspiria” isn’t a complete hit out of the park, as it suffers from being a brutally over stuffed, overlong narrative with a glacial pacing. There are so much storylines packed in to the two and a half hour run time that it becomes almost impossible to catch up if you aren’t at full attention all of the time. Even then, it’s kind of difficult to understand the intention and motive behind certain characters, especially as Guadagnino ushers his narrative in to a gory albeit utterly confounding climax. “Suspiria” is an elaborate mystery that works a bit too well, and caused me gaze in sheer confusion at least once or twice. I also wasn’t a fan of Guadagnino’s heavy reliance on draping the narrative over the course of actual events unfolding in Berlin during the late seventies, as it destroys any and all inherent menace for the sake of staying true to some sense of realism.
“Suspiria” worked because it felt like a twisted fairy tale, and Guadagnino side steps that much to the detriment of the final film. In either case, “Suspiria” is fine. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s just fine, and I might even grow to like it a lot more after a few more views and more analyses of its nuances and twists. If anything, Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” pulls off what most remakes should aspire to. It pays respect to the original while carving out its own niche in to an entertaining, and disturbing tale of witches, witchcraft, and heavy allegories about the cut throat world of dance and performance art.