Director: Luca Guadagnino
Notable Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina
Remakes are a contentious subject for movie fans. I don’t necessarily share most of the feelings, as I believe a good film can be a good film regardless of its connection to its source material, but after years of terrible remakes, it’s hard not to have some understanding for the hatred. When it comes to a classic film with a very rambunctious and vocal fan base like Suspiria, having a remake was already going to be a hotly debated topic even if it is a great film. This is what makes the multi-award nominated director Luca Guadagnino’s version of this horror classic such a fascinating remake. It’s a very good film. It’s shies of being great, for some reasons that will be further explained below, but 2018’s Suspiria is a massively fascinating and true reinterpretation of the original film. This is not Argento’s version simply modernized and watered down for mainstream consumption that traps so many horror films. This is truly a unique spin on the classic, incorporating its own key elements, loosely following the core plotting of the original, and developing some fantastically disturbing and refreshing themes. Even for fans of the original, if you’re a cinephile, you’re going to find plenty of things to respect about the film, even if you have a full-hearted love for the original.
For those who may not have seen the original, Suspiria was a film that was loose with its plot and far more focused on the emotional feelings of its tone, atmosphere, and stunning visuals. Naturally, the biggest difference going into 2018’s Suspiria is that the film adds in a lot more plot and a develops quite a few more characters beyond just the main protagonist Susie, who moves from America to join this German dance studio. This is where the film is both a massive success and also problematic. The additional elements of characters like Professor Klemperer or being upfront with the information that the dance school is run by witches (not a spoiler) actually add to the film. Using the back drop of a few terrorist events that were occurring in the world at the time like the Red Faction Army and the 1977 Hanafi Siege further grounds the film – more on that in a bit. However, running at almost 3 hours long, Suspiria is far too long for its own good. It spends a lot of time developing a few characters further than they needed to be, in particular it even starts to add in subplots (one of the teachers with the thick rimmed glasses gets a weird amount of screen time that could have easily been excised) and there is a sense that a lot of the film could have been trimmed down to make a more efficient machine. There are also a couple of unique casting choices that do occasionally seem distracting, even though the performances are fantastic. In these regards, Suspiria is not quite the perfect “modernization” (the film takes place in 1977) of the story that it might have been. Yet, it’s ambitiousness has to be respected in adding to the entire plot and narrative in some very creative ways.
From that point though, boy, is Suspiria quite the cinematic experience. Director Guadagnino never attempts to replicate the style of the original (even Argento can’t recreate that period of his career, despite many attempts to) and he takes a lot of the ideas – broad patterns and color choices – and makes it his own. As the film goes, it never reaches for that fairy tale fever dream aesthetic and it’s the right choice. It goes down its own rabbit hole of artistic choices (using subtle music and lots of fantastic body movements to create its own sense of dysmorphia) and it becomes its own beast in some modern ways. It plays with its sense of time in an enjoyable manner, disembodied voices and flashbacks occasionally bleed into reality, while there are some modern dream sequences that use the hyper-editing and disturbing visuals to create tension. Try to keep count of ALL OF THE MIRRORS used in the sets and how Guadagnino uses them within a thematic idea of ‘knowing who you are and how you are seen.’ I dare you. There are even some great throw back choices to 70's cinema including the use of sets and lots of slow zoom ins that give the film a bit of an older feel that truly works in its benefit. Partner all of this with some fantastic performances, even from some of the secondary cast who may only get very brief screen time to make an impression, and this film has so much working for it in terms of style and execution.
Yet, with all of this, the best part of Suspiria is one that is really hard to talk about in a review due to spoilers. The original was very much a fairy tale where the innocent and childlike women are forced to face off against witches, but this one very much boils things down in a lot of different directions. It does leave things open to interpretation and there are plot and character choices added and changed in the third act that completely alter the tone and themes of the film itself. It plays on the expectations of those who know the original film in some surprising ways and it uses a lot of parallels and themes to create an impressively layered cinematic feast. The mirrors were mentioned above, but pay particular attention to how it layers in the real-world events of terrorism and World War II with how the witches operate – it’s done in some unexpected ways. Also, the film carries a significant feminist thread that comes off as particularly effective with recent events as it wraps in a lot about the role of 70's interpretive dance and motherhood into its proceedings. The best parts of Suspiria are ones that can’t be fully expressed in a non-spoiler review, but it does pull off some great thematic material.
As you can infer, Suspiria is a bold and ambitious new re-imagining of the horror classic. Its thematic weight, homages to the original, and fresh style make it a completely different beast than its predecessor and for those choices Suspiria earns a massive amount of respect. Even with its flaws in being too long and occasionally too packed with unnecessary character/plot development, this is exactly what a remake of Suspiria needed to do to be successful as a piece of cinema. In a world where remakes are often written off before they have a chance to exist, this film attempts to update and create within the world of the concept and it does so with a vigor and vision that deserves the praise it has received. Suspiria is not perfect, but it’s spell is one that is hard to ignore.
Written By Matt Reifschneider