Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) is a lot of film. His remake of Dario Argento’s iconic 1970s horror is around two and half hours long (the original clocks in at nearer one hundred minutes). Its run time is densely packed with atmosphere, artistic cinematography and outrageous horror sequences.
The bones of the plot are similar enough to the original. Dancer Susie (Dakota Johnson) moves to Europe to attend a prestigious ballet school. She arrives to find the atmosphere at the school disturbed; a student has gone missing, having left during the night. The coven of witches that run the school are immediately struck by Susie, and have lead instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) begin preparations for Susie to participate in a ritual.
The thing with this new Suspiria is that there’s so much to it. It gets broken down into sixteen thousand acts (okay, six and an epilogue). It’s a film that sits with you for days afterwards. It does feel long, but it also feels full.
Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich have cannily relocated the dance school to Berlin but retained the 1977 setting of the original. The tumult in Berlin at this time (just thirty-two years after World War II and with the wall dividing Berlin more than a decade from falling) allows the film to draw parallels with the modern political climate. Tense border crossings and a bleak dividing wall both feature. The political references don’t stop there, either, as the film also has the MeToo movement in its blood (particularly in a pair of brutally loaded lines of dialogue).
It gives you material to engage with, then, but as an audio-visual experience, it’s hypnotic. It’s in a series of nightmarish montages that Suspiria (2018) delivers its most effective moments. These bizarre visual collages, set to Thom Yorke’s wonderful tension-winding score, become increasingly intense, eventually reaching a level that can be overwhelming. The film climaxes with a sequence that is visually and aurally spectacular. It’s vulgar and disturbing. The film lands on a visceral level, and it’s in this way that it really feels like it captures some of the spirit of Argento’s original.
Fans of the original Suspria will likely have noted from the promotional marerials that Guadagnino’s remake does not feature the same vibrant colouring. Indeed, this new take uses a more faded palette, with lots of worn-out orange and green. However, it turns out that Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom have no less of an eye for beautiful photography because goodness me, Suspiria (2018) is a gorgeous film to look at.
Set against the grey German landscapes, the school is a grand looking location, and its large empty halls and mirror-lined studios make a wonderful disorienting backdrop for this treacherous witchcraft horror.
And, in fact, if you stick with the film you will find more vivid colouring awaits.
Then there’s the melodrama, another element of the original that is present in the remake. Moments of melodrama and even some silliness here only add to the disorientating feel Guardagnino achieves.
Suspiria (2018) is a work of precision. Even the performances feel exactly measured. The two central turns are both excellent but notably restrained. Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc is a poised matriarch and Dakota Johnson’s Susie overwhelmed and awestruck, while the two share a quiet, compelling chemistry. Elsewhere, the rambunctious coven of witches provides a more anarchic presence and Eva Goth is brilliant as the rebellious, chain-smoking Sara.
While there’s all that and more to praise in Suspiria (2018), the film is pocked with flaws. There’s some unconvincing CGI, a few slow dialogue sequences that pop up when the run time is already past punishing and a couple of interesting ideas that simply don’t work when rendered visually (such as the dance sequence with Susie and Olga). It really is an indulgent film, and we wonder whether a little more restraint in the scripting stage might have been worthwhile.
2018 has been a year of incredible genre movies; The Shape Of Water, A Quiet Place and Hereditary. Suspiria (2018) stands just shy of them. There is so just much to it and of it. At one point, we swear they ran out of Suspiria (1977) to remake and so just started redoing bits of Mother Of Tear. We hope Luca Guadagnino remakes Inferno next and that it’s six and a half hours long.
Suspiria (2018) is ambitious, absurd and brilliant. It is a brave remake and a worthy follow on.
Suspiria is in selected UK cinemas from Friday.