Susie (Dakota Johnson) is keen to study dance at this exclusive Berlin academy, but is aware she must audition first, and the political climate she has arrived in, with left wing terrorists making their mark on the city and the whole of Europe - including currently an aeroplane hijack - is none too friendly. But she has self-belief, and as she emerges from the subway station in the drizzling rain, diligently following her map, she knows she is doing the right thing. What she is not aware of is that the student she is set to replace, Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and just before she did, she contacted an elderly psychiatrist connected to the school...
By the time Suspiria had been remade in 2018, it seemed as if there were very few of the classic, and even cult classic, horror movies left to remake, which meant if they were not to be sequelised, producers would have to start remaking the remakes which were rarely as profitable as their originals, nor as artistically or even viscerally satisfying either. So it was here, a painfully longwinded retelling of one of the simplest narratives of all the most revered shockers from that groundbreaking decade of the nineteen-seventies: basically, Susie shows up at the ballet school, realises it's being run by a coven of evil witches, and foils them to the best of her ability, it was as uncomplicated as that.
Tell this to director Luca Guadagnino and apparently he would laugh in your face, for he took this almost insultingly small framework and added so many adornments that it buckled under its two-and-a-half hours weight. Sure, original director Dario Argento had been inspired by the script by himself and then-wife/star Daria Nicolodi to spin off in directions of their own, but they were all in the service of concocting a blaring, garish fever dream that had one desire, which was to freak out the audience. In the remake, we were invited to consider the political landscape of the seventies which the source material had hailed from, except you were never told precisely why that was important.
Not why the politics were important to the story, nor why you should be considering them away from the film, leaving them as window dressing, a real world terror to offset the supernatural shenanigans that came to a head in the last half hour. Yet that finale was less than coherent, more performance art, complete with agitprop primal screaming, added to exploding heads and full body makeup that meant something significant to the characters but almost nothing to anyone watching, failing to wrap anything up with any skill. To sit through such a long experience, especially for a horror film (Argento had it done and dusted in an hour less), and leave with nothing resolved as far as you could see, could only mean two things: they planned a sequel, in which case watch out for Inferno's remake, or they had allowed the material, here rambling about female cruelty, to get away from them.
The latter would appear to be the case, as Suspiria 2018 was not going to be looked on benevolently by horror fans who appreciated vintage Argento, which was just about all of them, nor would it appeal to the casual film fan who had never seen the original, and therefore would have no point of reference: this did seem to be relying on the viewer's familiarity with the first incarnation to assist in following the stodgy plotting. Argento had made such an impression thanks to his way with a nightmarish setpiece, and whatever criticisms could be levelled at his work, pretentious was not one of them, yet that was all over Guadagnino's efforts and he quickly discovered that hanging all this significance on a piece where the style was the substance was just going to collapse in a heap. As indeed his characters do after yet another modern dance workout. Every so often there was something that might have made this its own entity, Tilda Swinton's triple roles one of them, but it was scrappy in that respect, drably filmed in a misguided attempt to distance itself from Argento's visuals, and likely to have general audiences exiting well before the end. Noodly music by Thom Yorke, who was no Goblin.
This brought to mind Mark Kermode's thoughts on Exorcist II: The Heretic being the work of a filmmaker who believed he was 'elevating' the original. It seems to me that critics and fans that really love Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria (and there are quite a few) are the sort that would not be caught dead watching Dario Argento's Suspiria. I'm still surprised and dismayed how that film is held in such low esteem by modern horror fans. It is the same story with De Palma's Carrie. Sigh. I am truly out of touch.
10 May 2019
This stony-faced reimagining is one of those horror movies for people who don't like horror movies, it really is groaningly dull when it's not emphasising the ballet, which Argento wasn't interested in. Gee, I wonder why? Is it because it's a distraction from what should be the real shocker setpieces?