Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria isn’t a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. It merely uses the older film as a jumping off point, a fact of which everyone seems proud. A straight remake would have been preferable.
There’s nothing wrong with a remake. Cinema is a nostalgia recycler and by my reckoning, The Matrix has been redone at least four times. If you’re predisposed against copycats, you’re missing out. A lack of understanding as to why the story worked once before is usually where a rehash falls flat. Here it is more simple. Luca Guadagnino, coming off of the back of the wonderful Call Me By Your Name, is not a horror director.
The film is dragged down by the weight of self-importance from the opening scene. A title card informs us of multiple, named acts. The narrative immediately, willfully obtuse. There are great ideas, like a dance belonging to its creator and the dancers are manipulated to a purpose they cannot appreciate. This is reflected through the film's feminism and more literally in a scene where an oblivious Dakota Johnson’s movements are mirrored as vicious attacks on a girl in an adjacent room. Sounds cool, but it’s just bewildering and indulgent.
Both versions of the film are set in a dance school, but this version belongs on stage, not screen. Jennifer Beals did a better audition scene, but she had music. When Johnson tries to play a track, she is stopped and has to do it silently. I imagined her humming “What A Feeling” and it improved in my head immeasurably as otherwise, there’s no urgency to the scene. Tension is diffused by impenetrable interpretive dance. Guadagnino is no novice and, technically, the film is almost beyond reproach. There’s an awesome De Palma-style split-diopter shot, but it’s telling that I saw that as a high-point. The one Jordan Peele uses in Us made his scene more chilling. Bold ambitions, bold execution, but Suspiria is lost in-between.
During the Grand-Guignol finale, the direction is lost altogether, as if the very staging of the thing is good enough already. And it could have been, because the practical effects are fantastic (sadly disguised by augmented CGI blood, a red filter and strobing enough to give you vertigo).
I do feel sorry for Dakota Johnson. She’s great. She has her mother’s (and father’s) charm but is a more subtle actor with tons of potential. As a follow up project to the dire Fifty Shades, itself an advert for taking care when recycling superior material (Twilight, with a “Bruce Wayne is kinky” twist), you can’t blame her choice. However, she struggles to do anything with this insipid character.
Perhaps I’m just too close to the original Suspiria, a mongrel of a film and challenging in its own right. Though it contains one of the scariest sequences I’ve ever seen, the score could have been sponsored by Marmite. Continual screeching of “Witch!” might be your thing or it’ll grate, but it worked either way. Argento can be credited for creating the modern slasher film. Maybe it is too much of an ask to try and mess with the formula.
The style of the film can’t be criticised. It’s a muted palette more in keeping with Tomas Alfredson and Hoyte van Hoytema’s Let the Right One in. Perfectly fine and a strong stylistic choice just as Argento’s vivid colours were. Dakota Johnson’s red hair frequently creates a striking contrast. The film is available on Amazon Prime but there is a benefit to Blu-ray over streaming in this regard.
The film lacks a lot of punch and again, there is nothing technically wrong with the production but the sound design is that of a drama, offering nothing to a sense of tension that a horror would need.
A trio of extended trailers only a few minutes long.
Making Of Suspiria (4m): a puff piece in which Dakota Johnson says "these aren't Hocus Pocus witches". Shame. I like that film. Hocus Pocus witches can also not be found in Robert Eggers The Witch.
The look of Suspiria (4m): more interesting, but repetitive of the first one. Almost like these things have been churned out with little thought to a greater whole.
Secret Language of Dance (4m): possibly the best of these weak extras, if you have an interest in dance. But again, edited like a trailer.
The Transformations of Suspiria (4m): Easily the most impressive as it shows the prosthetic work undertaken for the film, which you then can’t see properly. This is effectively a trailer for a better film.