Our staff debates whether Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” qualifies as cinematic magic or just another horror remake curse.
For many genre fans, Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) is an incomparable masterpiece of Italian horror. For many, like myself, news of an attempted remake was met with scorn and incredulity. How could anyone possible attempt to recreate such cinematic magic? And why even bother to remake a film that, in the eyes of so many, is beyond reproach?
However, as time went on and more was revealed about the 2018 remake — from the filmmakers involved to the incredibly smart casting choices — my anger subsided and genuine curiosity took over. I was overcome with a compelling need to see what gifted director Luca Guadagnino would do with such beloved source material.
I had the opportunity to screen this film at Fantastic Fest, and I was blown away. You can read my full review here. But as much as this new vision of Suspiria impressed me, I knew it was going to be polarizing. So I asked members of my staff to provide their takes on the film to give you a diverse, balanced perspective. Then be sure to see the film for yourself, because no review can truly prepare you for this experience.
Check out these four very different takes on Suspiria from our writers in a segment we call Morbid Minis. (Angry Princess)
TAKE ONE: SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE
The best adaptations are not straight shot-for-shot remakes. They take the spirit of the original and add something special. Suspiria (2018) takes the storyline of the original, but adds a hefty historical subplot, a bit more narrative, and a couple of doses of macabre humor. Unfortunately, these added elements strip the story of its dreamlike quality, and despite excellent performances all around, you feel every minute of its significant two and a half hour running time.
Tilda Swinton, as always, is an extraordinary artist, playing a being of pure control and power. Dakota Johnson is perfect as the virgin vessel with power of her own. But the film drags whenever we go outside the walls of the dance academy. Even inside, the tone wobbles a bit at times into cartoonish digital horror when a more restrained approach would have fit better with the tone.
If you must, see this one when it’s available for streaming, if only for the performances. Better yet, skip this one altogether and watch the original. (Alli Hartley)
TAKE TWO: STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
Released in 1977 and directed by Dario Argento, the original Suspiria is a classic giallo horror film. While not one of my favorite movies, I respect Suspiria for what it means to the genre. I admire what Argento accomplished with the movie. It is visually and aurally a feast for the eyes and ears. That being said, the story itself doesn’t make a lot of sense and the acting isn’t anything to write home about. I find the original to be the perfect case of style over substance. I had high hopes that the remake might be something more.
Alas, it is not. If anything, it focused on the worst parts of Suspiria and amplified them, while completely disregarding what at least makes the original Suspiria a classic. The movie is moved to West Berlin during the height of the Cold War (the new film is set in 1977 when the original was released).
An interesting concept? Yes. But it leeches the color from a movie, which I can only think was an attempt to create a separate identity for the new film. It doesn’t work, and the attempts to work in the political climate of the time falls short and gets lost in the convoluted plot.
Speaking of plot, the new film is a full 60 minutes longer than the original movie. This could have been wonderful if the movie had attempted to fill in some of the holes from the original film. It does not. It just makes a messy plot even messier.
Presented as six acts and an epilogue, they could have easily lost the whole first act and the epilogue and it might have been a better movie. I generally get lost in the theater and am completely able to check out from the world and check into whatever world I’m watching. During Suspiria, I found myself looking at my watch wondering if was ever going to be over.
Is there anything good about it? Tilda Swinton is captivating as Madame Blanc, but triple casting her as Dr. Klemperer and Helena Markos feels gimmicky and contrived. Chloe Grace Moretz is her usual brilliant self and utterly wasted.
The movie does finally offer some amazing visuals during the climax of the movie, but by that point I was almost completely checked out and just didn’t care. Argento’s original, though flawed, will always be a classic. The new film will fall onto the large — oh, so very large — pile of unnecessary and largely forgotten remakes. (Todd Reed)
TAKE THREE: BRILLIANT, BUT NOT FOR EVERYONE
Suspiria is without question a film that requires quite a bit of processing. That’s not meant as a negative towards the film, I found it to be completely engrossing. Suspiria is not simply a film but an experience. Director Luca Guadagnino has succeeded in making this a successfully complete re-imagining and this Suspiria is a radically different animal from the 1977 original.
While it may not be for everyone, I found Suspiria to have a huge, engulfing feel — and much like the nightmares of Dakota Johnson’s character in the film, I can’t shake it from my head.
Johnson gives a stellar performance as Susie Bannion, the dancer new to the ballet company who triggers the dark sequence of events. Johnson is at once shy and confident, innocent yet mysterious and displays a hint of danger. She impressively pulls off the unforeseen conduit and vessel her character ultimately becomes.
The surprise performance for me came from Mia Goth as Sara, a dance company regular. Her lines and reactions don’t appear to come from learned dialogue or script notes. Watch her every move, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a moment where she’s not intensely present in every moment, particularly the cafe scene with Dr. Klemperer where Sara is largely listening. Goth is a naturally gifted actress and is immensely talented.
Suspiria does have an excessive run time (2 hours 32 minutes), and while most of it gripped me with its fantastic story and filmmaking, there is a side story that felt somewhat unnecessary. The film follows Dr. Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, drenched in old man makeup for some reason), as he unfolds the dark mystery going on at the dance company after being told about it by his patient, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz, mesmerizing in a brief, opening scene appearance).
This side story is not completely without relevance to the story, but his own side story regarding the disappearance of his wife many years ago seems wholly unnecessary and comes across as a device to shoe horn Jessica Harper into the film.
There’s a particular pivotal scene towards the end that shakes the film and story to its core. It’s pure blood soaked mayhem, and the style Guadagnino uses for the scene is completely different from the rest of the film. I will remain vague to avoid spoilers, but it’s as if the darkness released in the film not only takes over the ballet company but takes control of the film itself.
This technique attempts to get inside the head of the viewer, alter their perception and enhance the carnage on screen. Whether this technique was intended or successful for mass audiences is hard to say.
But I can say that I loved the filmmaking and storytelling on display in Suspiria.
I loved how dangerous and untrustworthy the film felt. Proceed with caution. Suspiria will test viewers. While that may not be a winning formula for many, I loved it and can’t stop thinking about it. Suspiria sunk its teeth deep into my mind. (Jason McFiggins)
TAKE FOUR: A FILM THAT DEMANDS TO BE SEEN…MORE THAN ONCE
Dario Argento’s film Suspiria moved me. It was one of the first horror films that I saw and remember believing that horror can also be beautiful. The colors, the sets, the photography, the mystery — Argento meticulously made a masterpiece in my opinion. This is why I wasn’t initially excited for another film, another director, to try and follow in the footsteps of Dario’s 1977 film. I was hesitant and fearful and felt it was not warranted to remake this particular feature, but alas we have Luca Guadagnino’s rendition of one of the most revered pieces in the history of filmmaking.
On Halloween night, I anxiously sat in my seat within the sold out theatre. The anticipation to experience this film, not only for myself, but for countless others, was incredible. Drawing inspiration from celebrated performance artists like Sasha Waltz and Mary Wigman, the 2018 release promised to bring authentic artistry and a brand of suspense that Luca Guadagnino and company concocted lovingly themselves.
Luca doesn’t attempt to mimic the vibrant colors of the original. Instead, the latest Suspiria brings an exquisite earth-toned tale that is both bewitching and penetrating.
Luca is a purposeful filmmaker. You can note this in his work, and he gladly incorporates quite a few visual treats that are thrown into the new production that both pay homage to Argento and bring a new light to the production. His Suspiria is a sweeping story of suspense, intrigue, abuse of power, guilt, motherhood and sisterhood. It is a wonderfully layered and stunning film, in my opinion — a film I did not expect to walk out from mesmerized, but I did.
With the political unrest in divided Germany in 1977 used as the backdrop, there is a constant sense of suspicion in Luca’s picture, either within the dance company walls or outside of. We are immediately introduced to Patricia, who is incredibly unstable and incredibly well portrayed by actress Chloe Grace Moretz (Carrie, Dark Shadows). Patricia is panic ridden, distraught as she enters the office of her elderly therapist Doctor Klemperer (A disguised Tilda Swinton in a remarkable triple threat role) like an emotional hurricane.
She is terrified of the women at the dance academy where she previously studied, what Madame Blanc and Markos (both also Swinton) will do to her. What they have already done to her. Patricia’s unravelling and the arrival of an unknown American dancer named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) to the same feared academy mark the beginning of fantastical happenings in Berlin.
The narrative weight measured in dance alone was mind-boggling.
Each scene that focused on the frenzied bodily emotions easily had me transfixed. The photography, the editing, the sounds, were so fucking effective, it gave me chills. And then we have the death scenes, and these I was not prepared for either. As a lover of gore, I perked up in my seat quite a few times during the movie, marveling at the unexpected level of violence unfolding before me. I could hear gasps coming from fellow movie-goers, and noticed out of the corner of my eye, someone covering their face.
I was pleasantly surprised by all of this, but something I found myself questioning at times was pace. With a running time of about two and half hours, watching Suspiria can be viewed as a serious commitment to some and a challenging watch for others. What helps make the film so intriguing though, are the phenomenal yet subtle performances from each member of the cast.
This in conjunction with the thoughtful, beautiful and unique take courtesy of writer David Kajganich and filmmaker Guadagnino, make for an impressive watch. And to experience Suspiria a second time, catching strategically placed context clues missed previously, just increased my admiration for this addition to horror. So many things I caught on to that begged me to question, “Was she Mother Suspiriorum all along?”
Susie even says during the film, “Sometimes I only need to be told twice.” Maybe the key to unlocking the mysteries of Luca’s movie is to experience it again and stay after the credits… (Danni Darko)