The Witch Is Back
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...