A “cover version” of Dario Argento’s horror classic from 1977. The story is more ambitious than the original, which back in the 70s went for atmosphere over story. The dance sequences are expanded on and the violence is definitely more graphic and off-putting. There’s a bit more depth in regard to the seduction and control of dance choreography, comparable to the manipulation of the Germans by Hitler or the loss of self in a cult. Set in late 70s Berlin, some reviewers wrote about national guilt in post-WW2 Germany, this aspect wasn’t that apparent to me. You could argue denial, guilt and trauma was embodied through various characters but I won’t spoil this here. Argento’s film was evasive about revealing what was wrong at the dance academy until the end, whereas Guadagnino’s Suspira is a different kind of mystery by giving up its secret half way through with explanatory dialogue, yet still offering other surprises.
What the new film wants to do (but to me doesn’t fully manage) is humanize these women and probably that’s the reason we see them laughing and enjoying themselves in the restaurant. The scenes with the old man have some emotion but needed to be edited down and at times are too removed from the central narrative. By the conclusion, I couldn’t tell dream from reality, and maybe that was intended, who knows, to make the audience feel we too were cast under the spell. The music and sound design is good, especially Thom Yorke’s haunting song Suspirium, although I think Goblin’s 70s soundtrack is far more eerie. A passable re-imagining, but not particularity emotionally involving and tonally it has some big shifts from quietly touching to gruesome all within a short space of time. I cared about the old man (I wasn’t distracted by Tilda Swinton in heavy make-up) and Sara (Mia Goth) yet felt almost nothing about the leads Susie (Dakota Johnson) and Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). That said, Madame Blanc is arguably the most interesting and complex character. There are 2-3 sequences which I’ll remember for a long time, such as the emotionless stare, the laughing women and the detective, and the shocking opening dance. Unfortunately, the violence is needlessly unpleasant. But I guess it’s not a fault because the filmmakers were obviously going for uncomfortable.
The original is style over substance. But in terms of style there are few that can top it, with fantastic camera work, production design, music, and suspense. The 2018 film is thinking man’s arthouse cinema with a completely different approach to visuals and story. Because plenty is going on beneath the surface, one viewing is probably not enough to unpack everything. I’m happy tries to be different to the 1977 film and from what I’ve read is a labor of love for Italian director and horror fan Luca Guadagnino. There’s been talk of a new film category “elevated horror” or “post-horror” and Suspiria I assume belongs to this new bracket because it (in the vein of Get Out or Hereditary) features strong performances, works as a drama, and has substance to go with the blood. However, some have complained the term is disrespectful, an elitist label which implies horror needs elevating. Of course, you could make the case smart horror dramas have been around for decades (Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining) and these are just fancy new categories for journalists to write about.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome