Sell your soul to the dance: ‘SUSPIRIA’ quasi-remake is quite enchanting (no major spoilers)

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Dakota Johnson (center) is lead Susie Bannion. (Amazon)

Horror aficionados are particularly skeptical when it comes to accepting the dreaded “remake” and “reboot” treatment of cult classics from the past.  (Four words: ‘The Wicker Man’ remake!! Ugh.)  And when a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo (Italian horror) masterpiece Suspiria was announced to follow suit, many wondered how a film that iconic could ever be taken into different hands, as well as what else could possibly be squeezed out of a film that isn’t exactly remembered for its super intricate plot.  Fortunately, renowned Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is at the helm of the 2018 version, and the man has not only given the original film its justice, but he has created an entirely unique piece of art that merely takes the skeletal framework of the original film, and has transformed it into its own, stylish identity.

Before we dive into it, since I’ve casted my own bewitching spell on you and can read your thoughts, I will answer what you are wondering: Do I have to had seen the original before?  Not necessarily, but I would strongly recommend you do ASAP.  Though the remake goes off into its own narrative, the original ’70s Suspiria is a classic and should be viewed regardless.  Make it a point to see both, for basis of your own personal comparison.  Additionally, you should probably brush up on some Berlin, Germany history during the late 1970s, in which the remake takes place.  Read an article or two, like this one– or else the subplot involving a particular character arc, as well as the film’s central themes and parallels (particularly the thematic comparisons to the divides of the Berlin Wall) will go right over your head.

I will keep the plot sypnosis brief: A virginal, talented American ballet dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the prestigious Helena Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, Germany and immediately impresses her teacher Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, one of many roles).  Meanwhile, a young woman named Patricia, (Chloe Grace Moretz) who also attends the Academy, is talking to her psychiatrist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (again Tilda Swinton, under heavy makeup) about her paranoia that the Academy is secretly a coven for powerful witches.  Patricia goes missing, and Dr. Klemperer begins looking further into the witchy suspicions, while simultaneously dealing with his grief over his own missing wife, who he has not seen since Germany’s involvement with World War II.  Susie soon becomes the lead in the school’s coveted “Volk” dance number, as her talent rises more and more, while strange and horrific things begin happening to the other girls at the Academy.  …I’ll just cease there, because I guarantee you think you know what is coming, but you don’t.

Guadagnino bravely takes his spin of modern Suspiria into directions that sometimes homages the original film, but purposely avoids exact aesthetic styles to give his version its own flavor.  Contrasting to the shades of vibrant reds, pinks, and blue hues that the 1977 version is celebrated for, Guadagnino’s Suspiria instead opts for an interesting muted color pallette within its cinematography that captures the bleakness of a 1977 fall/winter in a Berlin setting.  While the original film contains a super iconic, gory kill scene in which a heart is infamously stabbed, that the remake lacks, it does make up for it– with its depiction of one of the most cringey scenes of a body contorting and bones breaking (followed by a vicious usage of a curved hook) that you will possibly ever witness.  I was so impressed by its brutality.  The original Suspiria also contains one of the best musical scores of all time performed by Goblin, and while Radiohead singer Thom Yorke’s score for 2018 version doesn’t quite equate to that, it is still brilliantly haunting, particularly the reoccuring piano-driven “Volk” song that is repeated multiple times throughout.

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Tilda Swinton wows in her many roles within Suspiria (Amazon)

The Good:  If you are going to remake a classic, offer something different to the table.  Guadagnino does that and THEN some.  An example of this is within the dancing sequences that are so visually stunning, they could be treated as an individual character.  While the original film obviously contains a few dance practice sequences, the 2018 version’s choreography is so much more physically sharper, a la Black Swan, which gives much more of a lasting impact that its predecessor.  Of course, as we come to find out, these dance sequences are a lot more powerful than they seem, and you won’t be able to take your eyes off of them.

Through many layers, the film has a hell of a lot more to say than the 1977 version did.  While the original Suspiria dabbled with themes of matriarchal, powerful women just as this one does, the 2018 version has political undertones that warn us of the dangers of not fixing the Fascist past, only to repeat the same mistakes over and over again (very timely.)  Certain characters parallel the abuse of power that Hitler and Nazi Germany possessed, while others represent those who stood back and watched, and did nothing, as Nazi Germany turned into a concentration-camp-ridden, burning hell.  In late ’70s Germany, (so three-ish decades after WWII, in which the film’s plot takes place) themes of transference of power from one generation to the next are at the forefront, as certain young dancers are accused of joining radical terrorist movements like RAF (Red Army Faction) which mirrors the same problems that occurred in Germany years prior.

Much of the crux of the film relies on the wonder that is Tilda Swinton, who seamlessly flows through each of her three characters.  Although her turn as male character Dr. Klemperer might distract some, her one performance as Madame Blanc is so convincing, as she is questioning her loyalties to her fellow dance instructors, that even a scene in which she is completely silent, while at the table’s end of a chatty dinner party, is utterly afflicting.

Even though I would have liked to have seen a bit more from her, Jessica Harper (who played the original Susie Bannion in 1977) makes a much appreciated appearance towards the film’s final acts, and she is just as engaging as she was 40 years ago.

The Bad:  Guys, I tried.  I really wanted to love Dakota Johnson’s performance as Susie Bannion.  So many admirers argue that her performances in the dastardly 50 Shades franchise movies are far superior to the actual quality of those films, but I fail to agree (Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit I have watched one of those before.)  I was really hoping to join Team Dakota Fan Club, but this performance was just fine for me.  Even when her character completes a 180 by the film’s conclusion.  Even the scenes in which she is aggressively convulsing on the floor.  Don’t get me wrong, she works well enough– she was in no way poor, and she was in no way outstanding…she was just fine.  My expectations were too high, I suppose, and her turn as the film’s lead was easily overshadowed by Swinton’s, Angela Winkler’s, Mia Goth’s, and Ingrid Caven’s, among others.

As big of an arthouse horror lover that I am, 2018 Suspiria does feel like it is patting itself on the back at times.  Its convoluted plot does feel tiresome at times, as it entrusts more from the audience than it probably should have.  Some pretension is never a bad thing, but in excess, I can see how this will lose some audience members.  Even though the film is broken down clearly into six stated acts with an epilogue, mainstream fans (many of which thought this year’s Halloween sequel was excellent) will still not get what is coming at them, and Suspiria could suffer from last year’s unfairly hated ‘mother!’ movie syndrome.  Dummies, just sit this one out. 

Additionally, the film’s 2.5-hour run time could have been trimmed a tad.  I found 90% of its entirety compelling, except for a few scenes involving Swinton’s Dr. Klemperer.  He is integral to the overall plot, but I could not help but find myself bored at (some) of his screen time.

The Ugly:  Similar to the original, 2018 Suspiria contains varying degrees of grotesque imagery and auditory sounds, and it fries them into your brain.  Though the blood spatter isn’t as bright and colorful as the original, there is no shortage of carnage.  Agonizing screams of pain are nightmare fuel, and a certain sixth act dance sequence is a surprisingly horrific, gruesome blood bath.  Even the sounds of one character’s dying breaths that are sprinkled throughout will remind you of the crazy-scary Zelda character from 1989’s Pet Sematary.

Overall, Suspiria is just short of a masterpiece, and Guadagnino has proven himself to not only be an exceptional director in his previous work, but he can now be considered a promising horror director.  For fans of moody arthouse horror that can accept the gloomy differences that the remake has against its predecessor, 2018’s Suspiria is definitely worth the time– in fact, it’s probably worth multiple viewings.

rating: 8.4/10 ~

One thought on “Sell your soul to the dance: ‘SUSPIRIA’ quasi-remake is quite enchanting (no major spoilers)

  1. Pingback: Best Horror Films of 2018 (many of which you probably missed) | Horrormonal

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