The Witch Is Back

SFX - - Reviews -

You’re on a hid­ing to noth­ing re­mak­ing Sus­piria. Dario Ar­gento’s 1977 hor­ror is the ob­ject of fer­vid cult wor­ship thanks to its vi­cious mur­ders, lurid pal­ette and bom­bas­tic prog score. It’s a film where style is ev­ery­thing – but im­i­tate that style and you’d be slated for mak­ing a knock-off.

Wisely, Luca Guadagnino’s ver­sion takes the ba­sic el­e­ments – in ’70s Ger­many, young Amer­i­can Suzy/Susie (here Dakota John­son) at­tends a dance school run by witches – but places them in a dif­fer­ent set­ting, mak­ing use of muted colours and stately pac­ing, and fix­ing is­sues with the orig­i­nal.

In Ar­gento’s film, there’s no par­tic­u­lar rea­son why witches are run­ning a dance school. The re­make’s mas­ter­stroke is to place the power of dance front and cen­tre, with the chore­og­ra­phy of teacher Madame Blanc (a typ­i­cally ex­tra-ter­res­trial Tilda Swin­ton) func­tion­ing like spells writ­ten in the air. The three stand­out se­quences all fo­cus on dance: a hor­rific demon­stra­tion of its power; a stun­ning group per­for­mance; and a glo­ri­ously overblown fi­nale, which im­proves upon the orig­i­nal’s an­ti­cli­max.

The one great is­sue is its length. Guadagnino’s Sus­piria is self­ind­ul­gently baggy, test­ing even the most pa­tient viewer at ev­ery level: shot, scene, sub­plot. A story thread which sees el­derly psy­cho­an­a­lyst Dr Klem­perer in­ves­ti­gat­ing the school could be ex­cised at no great loss. And the mis­chievous de­ci­sion to have Swin­ton play Klem­perer too (sub­merged be­neath old man pros­thet­ics) proves dis­tract­ing, leav­ing you half-ex­pect­ing a plot twist – with Klem­perer pulling off a mask, or be­ing re­ju­ve­nated – that never comes. Fem­i­nine body lan­guage still reads through the make-up, and the doc­tor al­ways feels like a per­for­mance rather than a char­ac­ter.

Ul­ti­mately, this “cover ver­sion” (as Swin­ton has de­scribed it) is a com­mend­able ef­fort, a jaz­zfreestyle take on a stan­dard which throws some in­ter­est­ing new shapes. But it doesn’t cast a spell quite as pow­er­ful as that of the orig­i­nal. Ian Berri­man

Strike a pose, there’s noth­ing to it...

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