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Review: Suspiria (2018)

Suspiria (2018)

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Premise: A remake of the 1977 film. An American ballerina (Dakota Johnson) joins a German dance academy following the disappearance of another student. She suspects that the school houses a sinister secret.

What Works: Suspiria is an ambitious remake of a horror classic. The new version builds upon the original components of Dario Argento’s film to create a distinct movie. Like the original picture, Suspiria takes place in 1970s Germany but the remake uses the setting in ways that are very important to its themes. It is a time of social unrest and the citizens, now a generation removed from World War II, grapple with guilt in the aftermath of the Third Reich. The dance academy is a leftover of prewar Germany and it houses a world renowned company in which students train intensely and devote themselves to their art. The film draws subtle parallels between life inside the dance academy and the specter of fascism that haunts the country. Suspiria is a thoughtful movie. The story and imagery pull together politics, art, spirituality, and gender into a provocative mix. This movie is unsettling but not in the way of most mainstream horror films. Suspiria reaches for something deeper than immediate shocks or mortal danger. This film is about devotion and a peculiar feminine devotion epitomized by motherhood. And in that respect, Suspiria does something impressive that separates it not only from the 1977 film but also from most of the horror genre. A lot of horror pictures, especially mainstream supernatural horror, take certain symbols and moral assumptions for granted. The monsters and witches are coming for our hero who must destroy them and purge the world of the Other. Suspiria goes in a radically different direction and it reveals new and exciting possibilities for the horror genre. The themes of Suspiria are matched by its cinematic craft. 2018’s Suspiria is not as severely stylized as the 1977 film but it has a visual style that works for this approach to the material. The color palette is bleak and austere and the movie uses unusual editing. The dance sequences are especially well choreographed and capture a fervor associated with states of spiritual ecstasy. The music by Thom Yorke, best known as the lead singer of Radiohead, interweaves melodies and discordant tones that create a disconcerting atmosphere.

What Doesn’t: The 2018 version of Suspiria is so far departed from the 1977 film that it strains the remake label. Only the most basic elements of the original story are retained and this movie is nearly an hour longer. Dario Argento’s Suspiria was primarily a style piece; the story was unremarkable but the film was distinguished by its artful use of color and light, a memorable score, and an innovative sound mix. While the new film is artistically distinguished in its own right, 2018’s Suspiria doesn’t really resemble any of the qualities associated with the title. The new film is also quite cerebral. It’s a thoughtful picture that is often subtle. Stylistically and thematically, Suspiria has more in common with Rosemary’s Baby than it does with contemporary horror hits. This film doesn’t have the narrative structure, familiar morality, or shocks of movies like It or The Conjuring. That’s not a fault of Suspiria but the movie is unlikely to play for the mainstream horror audience.

Bottom Line: Suspiria continues 2018’s impressive run of horror films. This isn’t the Suspiria that Dario Argento fans are familiar with and that’s fine. Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino has created his own film, one that is provocative and justifies its own existence.

Episode: #726 (November 18, 2018)