Film review: Suspiria (2018) (spoiler-free)

 

 

Suspiria 2018.jpg

 

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.

 

7/10

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

15 thoughts on “Film review: Suspiria (2018) (spoiler-free)

  1. Great review Chris. I do agree that the plot with Josef the old man needed to be edited down. I’m kind of glad we don’t fully like Dakota Johnson as Susie Banion but yes I wish I could get slightly involved with her character more.

    I liked this version and will rent it again but I love Argento’s original and own that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @The Vern: Thanks, yeah, Johnson’s Susie was an enigma, I wish she was given more dialogue. Easier to relate to the 1977 lead Jessica Harper and her big scared eyes. The opening scene of Josef walking definitely went on too long.
      I like Guadagnino’s work although Call Me By your Name is maybe too simplistic, and his Suspiria over-compensated and is over-stuffed with ideas. The balance is somehow a bit off. Even A Bigger Splash which meanders for over an hour and then finally the story kicks in.

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  2. Great and thorough review. I am yet to see this film, but as time goes by I am less and less eager to see it. I agree with you that the original emphasised the visuals over the story. I am also a bit perplexed that they have chosen Dakota Johnson for the lead role in the new one. If I am going to see this movie it will probably be because Tilda Swinton is in it.

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    1. @dbmoviesblog: Thanks. The new Suspiria held my interest, but is slow in places. I would describe the film as a drama with shocking moments and not really a scary horror. I think it’s wise of them to go in a new direction because the style in the original was unbeatable. Dakota Johnson’s dancing is believable and she appears to have put a lot of training in yet I don’t think she had enough charisma to play this important role. Swinton is very subtle and interesting as Madame Blanc.

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      1. I think you put it just right Johnson does not have enough charisma to pull off the film, but then it is probably my own aversion to remakes which stops me from seeing the new Suspiria, rather than anything else. I will work on that 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. @dbmoviesblog: I hope you give it a chance despite Johnson’s casting . She doesn’t actually have as many scenes as you may think. Not a traditional remake. In some ways it improves on the story, in other areas it isn’t as good. Certainly an interesting and bold experiment.

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  3. I struggle with those genre labels in music – I hadn’t realized the same sort of classifications (different horror styles) happened in film as well.
    I haven’t seen the film yet but I’d imagine I’d like the film, perhaps not the label!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @stephen1001: Yes, genre labels can be confusing, luckily the internet can help us out !
      If you like films that require a bit of effort you may appreciate the 2018 Suspiria. If you don’t have the patience for arthouse stuff you might prefer to just relax and take in the 1977 original which is more immediate, visually-driven and easy to enjoy. The nice thing is we now have both options!

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  4. I’m glad you found some merits about as I tried not to think about Argento’s film as I realized immediately that Guadanino’s version is a total different animal. I feel like it’s more visceral and confrontational as I was awestruck in what I was watching. I would love to see it again and do a double-feature with Argento’s film. BTW, what did you think of Jessica Harper’s cameo in the film?

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    1. @ninvoid99: Glad you loved Guadagnino’s Suspira. Yes, the story goes deeper and explores things the original didn’t, that is the film’s biggest strength. I read a review which describes Suspiria (2018) as “dance-horror”, the style of the horror felt fresh but probably was inspired by something. You’ve got to respect Guadagnino’s ambition even if I didn’t like the graphic violence.
      Nice to see Harper return in a cameo though I think her scenes could have had greater impact if she was used in flashbacks so we could care about her character more.

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  5. Been torn on whether to go see this. A film that didn’t need remaking, though I’m always intrigued by anything Tilda Swinton does. Your review has left me curious but unconvinced.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Rol: I like that Guadagnino addresses the weakness of Suspiria (1977) which is the paper thin story. The new Suspiria adds depth to the story and expands on the dancing at the academy. Tonally the new film is a bit all over the place though, whereas the original sticks to its particular mood.

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  6. God, journalists and their labels :/ horror is horror. Plain and simple. I really find professional critics and writers to be progressively dumber these days. Anyways the film looks really interesting. I read the script and I am fascinated how they made such a long movie based on it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @sati: Yes, these new horror labels are unnecessary. Calling new Suspiria “arthouse horror” is a better description than “elevated horror” which is vague.
      Yep, the new version is long and will prove divisive because it’s multi-faceted, in contrast to the simplicity of the 1977 original .

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