a guest review by Spencer Hackett
I’ll lay my cards out on the table, the original Suspiria is one of, if not, my favourite film of all time. I think everything about it stylistically is perfect. I spent years wishing this remake would never come to fruition, seeing absolutely no point in it, because in my mind what makes Suspiria great, its colours, its soundtrack and its set pieces, can’t be remade without carbon copying those initial traits. And I stand by that this may have been the case when David Gordon Green was attached to direct, as his Halloween from this year worked so well because it felt so close to the original. But once I saw the first trailer for this new Luca Guadagnino version all of those fears went away. Guadagnino has taken elements from the original, warped them to make a perfect reinvention of the concepts of the original, whilst being smart enough to know that gaudy pink and a driving, Goblinesque score would only undermine the experience. I’ll do my best to explain, and without spoilers, although I’m seeing anything in the trailers as fair game, along with openly talking about the original, so if you haven’t seen that yet go and do it, now, I’ll still be here.
Written by David Kajganich, this new Suspiria takes its cues from the original story. Dancer Susie (Dakota Johnson) arrives in 1977 Berlin to attend the famous Tanz Academy, established by Helena Markos but run day to day by Madam Blanc (expertly played by Tilda Swinton, in one of three roles here, one of which I didn’t know about until writing this). Fellow student Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) believes the school to be run by a coven of witches. So far so familiar, but this new version takes the film far from the simple, expendable story line of the original. I’ll be the first to admit you don’t watch the original for its story, it is basic and you’ll have any twist sussed out within minutes, something that isn’t an issue here. If you love the original there are some nice nods, but the design and overall journey are new and far more developed. Kajganich’s script honms in on the characters, making you actually have interest in them, and moving them beyond simply good and evil. Props to Mia Goth as Sara, who takes a role that’s rather irritating in the original and giving serious heart to the character. The film has a predominantly female cast, with the most central Male character being played by Tilda Swinton in fantastic make up. This is woven into the narrative, with a focus on structures of women relationships, patriarchy and matriarchy, and changes in feminist thinking. The film also makes expert use of its politically charged ’77 Berlin setting, tying in events nicely to make it feel like a purposeful decision, not just aping the time frame of the original.
That’s enough about the story, so I’m going to focus on the visual elements of the film. Gone is the technicolor barrage that was the original’s style, here we have a much greyer, bluer, colder image. Whilst this may cause cries of “This isn’t Suspiria” (in fact I know it has) it is a genius decision in the end. Whilst the original has a fair amount of camp joy around it, this is a haunting film, a down beat crawl through dancers psychology, through a divided Berlin. The film may be drab in detail, yet it still looks fabulous. Shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom in a very classic style for the most part, the film oozes tactility. You feel like you could reach out and touch the snow, the mirror, the fabulous outfits. Slow zooms are a genius move here, drawing us into the characters. Guadagnino has used the visuals here to draw us to his characters, rather than cover over the cracks in their personalities. Also I’ll reiterate, if the colours were bright like the original, everyone would say it was pointless to do it all again, and it probably wouldn’t have worked as well as it did originally anyway.
And that brings us to the dances. Another flaw in the original is that you have this famous ballet school, in which we have one sequence in which a bunch of people who look like they’ve never danced twirl around a bit and then that’s the last we see of it. It’s a wasted opportunity to be perfectly honest, one not wasted here. The dance sequences here are top notch, often merging the dancing (expertly choreographed by Damien Jalet) with horror, or other key plot moments. I really hope we get the dances as unbroken takes, or at least some behind the scenes stuff for them on the DVD, they are breathtaking. As is the effects work here. As I said Swintons bonus roles are done entirely through make up, and fantastic make up it is. If you didn’t know it was her you wouldn’t tell (props must also go to her acting ability, she’s a genius performer), and to be honest you’ll probably still doubt yourself. But just as impressive is the gore work here. I will not spoil anything here, much has been made of a specific moment in this film, and with good reason. I haven’t felt this uncomfortable watching something since Martyrs (I feel like I talk about this film far too often), and I mean that in the best possible sense. It’s special when you get that feeling of complete unease in your stomach, and from that point on Suspiria had well and truly won me over.
That scene would be nothing without Thom Yorke’s expertly pitched score however. The Radiohead frontman has expertly joined bandmates Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway in the world of film scoring. He has created a score that moves from heart wrenching (in an emotional not physical manner) to somber to terrifying to beautiful. He at times creates juxtapositions with the visuals, whilst at other times dives headfirst into the guts of a great horror soundtrack. Expert stuff here and I hope he continues work like this. I’ve had the soundtrack playing whilst writing this review and I’ve had to stop at times because the score has conjured up great images from the film. Highly recommended listening.
I’ll pull this review to a close as I could ramble on and on about the great decisions made for this film (last point, great editing from Walter Fasano, that I’m sure will do some people’s heads in). Me and a friend both thought thematically this shares ground with Refn’s Neon Demon, but with a lot more brain than that. I’d throw in Carol Morley’s criminally under seen The Falling as a tonal comparison, or the similarly supernatural slow burn of Eggers’s The VVitch (an excellent double bill partner for this on further reflection). I don’t think this film is for everyone, and will probably split Argento enthusiast down the middle. It’s an acquired taste, but try and go with it, let it wash over you, and don’t expect a psuedo supernatural giallo because you wont get it. If you can see this in cinema do it, but just do what you can to see it. I was wrong to think Suspiria shouldn’t be remade, because it’s made one of the best horror films in years, even one of the best films in years. This is a truly haunting film. Whilst the original is like a stab to the heart, a viscerally intense experience, this is much more a creeping hand up the back, just as intense, but aimed to terrorise the mind, and it succeeds whole-heartedly.