Remakes can be tricky.
Horror remakes can be especially tricky.
Several classics of the horror genre; from John Carpenter’s Halloween to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho have been remade to varying levels of success and acclaim and at times, criticism. While those films are considered giants in horror history, occasionally a film that could be considered niche gets the remake treatment as well.
Italian filmmaker Dario Argento’s Suspiria was released in 1977, a visual and sonic assault of the senses about a young ballet student from America who travels to Munich to study at a dance academy that; as the film progresses reveals to the audience dark terrors lurking within it’s halls.
Suspiria is one of my all-time favorite horror films, easily sitting in my top five. So, when I was scrolling through my Twitter one morning back in June and read that a remake was being released later this year, I was at first apprehensive, because as with any fandom that one holds dear there’s always the concern of, will they do it justice? Will they get it right? Once my initial skepticism wore away, I began to feel curious and was more than willing to give it a chance and wanted to see for myself what fellow Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino had in mind for the Argento classic.
This version of Suspiria is long, two and a half hours long whereas the original was closer to 100 minutes. Guadagnino makes the most of the extra time though allowing the story to slowly unravel in front of the audience’s eyes. The basic premise is not much different than it’s 1977 inspiration. Suzie, played by Dakota Johnson, arrives to the dance academy and immediately feels a sense that something is not quite right within the school’s walls. She gradually discovers the sinister secret surrounding her lead instructor Madame Blanc, portrayed by Tilda Swinton. Both women turn in impeccable performances, conveying their own quiet intensity and play off each other perfectly.
What initially drew me into the Argento film was his use of stark, bright colors, and while the violence of Argento’s Suspiria may be considered more fantastical and dreamlike, it was these qualities notably during the death scene of Patricia at the original’s beginning with the unsettling score provided by prog rock band Goblin that drew me in, hooked me and made me realize there was no turning back.
This version of Suspiria is no less violent and at times can be hard to watch. I’ve never been the squeamish type, but there are some rather graphic and visceral scenes of death within the film that made even me cringe. Guadagnino makes good use of color in his film but rather than the bright, shocking red and blues as Argento used, his are more earth tone in their presentation; oranges and greens throughout. Muted, bleak, but no less beautiful. The score of Suspiria much like in the original is the driving force behind the film. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke does a masterful job of building tension to almost overwhelming levels with his musical accompaniments.
The film though is far from perfect. Some of the CGI during the film is noticeably bad, and while the 152-minute run time as mentioned gives the film the time it needs to sprawl out and allow the story to unfold, at times it can drag. Guadagnino runs into issues at times with perhaps a little too much exposition. Much as it was with a film like Blade Runner 2049, audience members patience may be tested as they watch Suspiria, but the payoff at the end is worth the wait.
2018’s Suspiria is an inspired and ambitious attempt at retelling Argento’s best known and possibly most well-loved film, but with its own wrinkles added. It is a film that needs to be seen, to be experienced. It’s a film that is visceral, disturbing, and will sit with you for hours, maybe even days afterwards, not only with its hypnotizing visuals and sounds, but with the engaging story found within as well. Luca Guadagnino is a director to pay attention to, having already achieved critical acclaim with 2017’s Call Me by Your Name and his retelling of Suspiria is deserving of our full and undivided attention.
I give Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria 4/5 stars.
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