Depending on who you speak to, movie remakes can be considered the bane of the Hollywood machine. What’s the point of telling a story that’s already been told, especially if it’s been told numerous times? It’s usually an idea from some vapid studio head who just wants to make an easy buck off of some brand recognition, but sometimes the idea can come from a more genuine and honest place.

Suspria (2018) takes place in 1977 Germany at the height of the Cold War. American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in West Berlin to attend the prestigious dance school there. The school is ran by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), who is actually a witch that belongs to a coven, looking to choose one of the students for a ritual. When student Patricia (Chloé Grace Moretz) disappears and other weird phenomena takes place, Susie and other students being to realize that something is up, but it may be too late.

When I first heard that Dario Argento’s iconic Suspiria was getting a remake, my first thought was, “Really?! They’re trying to dredge up some money by remaking Suspiria?” I figured it would be your typical horror remake schlock, but then I saw it was directed by Luca Guadagnino, the director of last year’s hit gay drama Call Me By Your Name. I couldn’t believe it when his name was attached to this project. The more I looked into it, the more it seemed to be a big passion project between him and screenwriter David Kajganich (who claims to not even like horror films), who wanted to take the original film and put their own spin on the story. This is totally a remake in name only. The general premise of an American girl going to a former dance school run by witches is still there, but literally everything from the visuals, to the style, to the performances, to the atmosphere, to the pacing, and everything else is completely different.

That’s exactly the kind of remake I like, because who just wants to watch the attempt at the same exact film by someone else? It’s best just to take elements from that original film and completely make it your own. Just because you’re completely making it your own doesn’t automatically make it good, though. The tough sell about horror films is that horror is completely subjective, especially so when dealing with artists who aren’t fans of the genre. Art itself is also completely subjective, but it can definitely be argued that some art is objectively easier to interpret than others. Some of it is meant to be deliberately vague and keep you in mystery. 

Suspiria (2018) isn’t just about the coven of witches and their dance school, but also about fascism, abuse of power, political guilt, motherhood, and a whole host of others themes you wouldn’t expect to be explored in a horror film. The themes of the film are all clear and present, but I couldn’t figure out, nor really be bothered to care what it all meant. When Susie arrives at the dance school, there’s an underlying tension that she’s a naïve girl being groomed by a group of nefarious women, but Guadagnino and Kajganich clearly wanted to do a lot more than just that story. Since this takes place during the German Autumn of 1977, the hijacking of a plane by the Red Army Faction (RAF) and other political intrigue permeates the background through radio and television feeds. It ties into the film’s themes, but has absolutely no real effect on the actual story.

There’s also a subplot concerning psychotherapist Josef Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor who is investigating the dance school coven. His character is well defined and gets a lot of screentime, but it’s the exact same thing as the RAF subplot. I get what it’s going for thematically and symbolically, but the way it ties into the rest of the film feels so tenuous. The oddest thing of all is the actor. Klemperer is credited as being played by Lutz Ebersdorf, who is actually just Tilda Swinton in a bunch of prosthetic makeup. Since Swinton also plays Madame Blanc, I figured there would be a payoff, but there is none. It’s just Tilda Swinton unconvincingly playing an old man. She’s still a terrific actress, though, especially as Blanc. Always looking with that steely gaze. Never sure what she’s thinking, or if she may snap. All of the performances are really terrific, although I did find Dakota Johnson to be a bit bland. However, the performances seems in tune with the character at the end. It was also nice to see original Suspiria star Jessica Harper show up.

Even with all of the extra nonsense, it doesn’t mean the horror elements weren’t all there, because they certainly were. They were just way few and far between, because there were moments where I was simply adoring this film. Susie has a couple of dreams throughout, some of which are influenced by Madame Blanc’s powers. The way they’re edited and shot, with such confusing and surreal imagery, perfectly represented the feeling of an awful nightmare. The focus on dancing is also a huge part of the horror, with two standout sequences, one featuring the horrifically real work of a contortionist who’s just way too talented. The choreography is just outstanding, done with such a raw intensity and skill that unnerves just as much as the dream sequences. Then there’s the ending, where the story just goes totally bonkers, with exploding heads and literal fountains of blood taking up the screen. For how subdued it was throughout, it was surprising to see it get so extreme. The film is gorgeous, too, but in a way where all of the colors are muted and drab, giving it all a very cold atmosphere. Thom Yorke’s moody score also drove home that increasingly depressing feeling. On a technical level, it’s truly marvelous.

But as I much as I loved all of the horror elements and atmosphere here, by the end of the 152-minute runtime, I gave nothing but a sigh of relief when it was all finally over. The pacing honestly wasn’t bad, mostly because the story was cleanly divided into acts, but then the ending kept dragging and dragging, the point becoming less and less clear. There were many moments in Suspiria (2018) where I was completely in love, but also plenty of moments where I couldn’t be bothered to even try to figure out why I should even care.


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