Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film, Suspiria, is an unassailable classic, and one of cinema’s all-time great mind-f#<ks. It’s a nutty piece of horror-schlock that combines kitschy production design, gruesome acts of violence, and a colour palette lifted from a package of Rainbow Skittles. Cinephiles consider Suspiria a seminal work in the Giallo genre, and it still sits on many all-time-best horror movie lists.
Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 re-imagining has no interest in recreating the original’s iconic look. He doesn’t bother matching the plot beat for beat either. And for the most part, Suspiria 2018 lacks its predecessor’s off-kilter tone. If you’re a fan of Argento’s classic flick and expect an homage, fan service, or even a straight-forward update, you’re out of luck. Instead, Guadagnino brings his own ideas to the table and for better and for worse, delivers a picture with its own distinct flavour.
Suspiria still follows the plight of a young American dancer named Suzie Bannion who relocates to Germany and enrolls in a dance company. Dakota Johnson plays this version of Susie, the young woman who “lucks out” when a roster spot opens after another dancer disappears. That dancer is Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) who we meet early on as she seeks help from Dr. Josef Klemperer. The young woman comes off as though she’s insane, raving of evil witches and their sinister motives. It doesn’t take long before the audience realizes the women running the company, headed by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), are witches with sinister motives – somebody listen to Patricia!
Bet on this movie launching countless think pieces and sparking endless debates. You can make the case this take on the material is bold and imaginative or self-indulgent. Whether you want a slavish recreation of the original or don’t know Giallo from Gianni Versace, this film has one defining quality we all agree on: It’s a horror movie. Horror films and their many subgenres come with their own sets of expectations, but scare-factor remains essential. So, the question on everyone’s mind is, “How scary is Suspiria?” And the answer is: Not at all.
Suspiria isn’t your typical jump scare horror thriller, gory slasher flick, or even a slow burn creep-fest like The Witch or Hereditary. It isn’t your typical anything. This movie doesn’t want to scare you so much as make you squirm. Clocking in at 152-minutes, Guadagnino knows his audience isn’t going anywhere. And with our attention tucked away in his leather-gloved grip, he slowly unleashes an unsettling parade of discomfort.
Suspiria features stomach-churning moments of brutality, gore, and decay, as well as literal mind-blowing acts of violence, but they aren’t the cathartic set pieces you get in most horror flicks. Instead, Guadagnino inflicts a persistent sense of melancholy and unease on his audience. This movie left me feeling bleak and sallow; yearning to cleanse my sullied emotional palette with sunshine and fresh air. Though this movie isn’t “scary,” it’s disturbing, with a haunting atmosphere that stays with you when the house lights come on.
Guadagnino’s movies stand out for creating a vivid sense of place. Whether it’s Call Me by Yor Name’s sun-kissed Italian countryside or the chilly corridors of Madame Blanc’s insidious school, his films create a palpable atmosphere. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and production designer Inbal Weinberg team up to cast a gloomy pall over every frame. The washed-out aesthetic, with its multitude of greys, browns, and dark blues makes the film look like a glimpse into the after-life. The camera frames the action from sharp angles and voyeuristic perspectives to keep the viewer off balance and on edge. And the use of whip-zooms – which quickly home in on a subject – feels like it’s tapping into primal survival instinct, warning of impending danger. Suspiria is rarely scary but every minute feels disturbing.
Nine times out of ten I walk away from a film knowing exactly how I feel about it, but Suspiria left me with too many intense feelings to process at once. Not only is this a movie I need to sit with, but it’s also one that demands a second viewing. Guadagnino does at times dip his toe into the same schlocky-horror pool as his predecessor, but his ambitions are so much higher. He tackles themes of guilt, pain, and repression and how they manifest in inescapable cycles. He explores the emotional psyche of the German people and layers it onto a film probing the nature of female strength. It’s a whole lot to process.
Suspiria is atmospheric, visually inspired, and features layers of themes to unpack; I’m still on the fence about whether it’s an enjoyable watch. At two and a half hours it often comes across as a self-serious slough, with intermittent moments of mayhem to liven things up. Does the film feature a coven of witches? Yes. Are someone’s bones violently battered, bent, and broken? But of course. Do people’s heads explode to a Thom Yorke song? Naturally. But the most notable thrills are a long time coming. Suspiria will put most viewers to sleep before it gives them nightmares.
- Rated: 18A
- Genre: fantasy, Horror, Mystery
- Release Date: 11/02/2018
- Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
- Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Elena Fokina, Tilda Swinton
- Written by: Daria Nicolodi, Dario Argento, David Kajganich
- Studio: Amazon Studios
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