Anaemic remake lacks bite Review
Suspiria (R16, 152 mins) Directed by Luca Guadagnino Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett ★★★1⁄2
If you’re not sure whether you have seen Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria, then you probably haven’t. It’s not a film easily forgotten, no matter how much you might want to.
Argento’s Suspiria is a blooddrenched fever-dream of a thing, shot with almost indecent amounts of artistry and flourish, possessor of one of the most cult scores of all time, resting on a creaking foundation of sheer gynophobia that is finally – thankfully – starting to make it all look a bit ludicrous and laughable.
So why, other than as a technical exercise in look-howclever-I-am, would Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) want to remake it? Suspiria is its own unrepeatable moment in cinema history, surely?
But Guadagnino has produced more of a homage and a companion piece to the original.
The film opens in 1977 (the year the original was released) with a seemingly innocent young American woman (Dakota Johnson) turning up at a prestigious Berlin dance academy to audition. Impressing the school’s messianic head (Tilda Swinton, in one of three roles she plays), she moves into the school’s dormitory, makes friends and begins classes.
At which point, Suspiria departs reality like a freight-train cartwheeling off a bridge.
Guadagnino keeps the original film’s themes of witchcraft and worship, but also throws in Holocaust guilt, the Red Army Faction terror campaigns and a couple of interminable sessions with a psychologist (also Swinton), all presumably in an attempt to decode and expand on whatever he thinks Argento’s original was ‘‘trying to say’’.
The result is a film a full hour longer than Argento’s, but with less impact and fewer truly memorable moments.
What was razor-sharp and luridly gruesome in 1977 is over long and a little flaccid this time. There are moments of real power – an early sequence showing one dancer being contorted to death by an unwitting other is stunningly effective and deeply horrific – but too often this film is muddled, longwinded and impenetrable.
On the plus side, this Suspiria looks stunning. Guadagnino adopts an authentically shonky choreography for his zooms and crane shots.
For viewers weaned on the seamless and soulless computerassisted moves that modern CGIheavy film-making demands, it might all seem a bit amateurish, but this is how camera movement used to look, before technology sucked the life and joy out of the noble art of the dolly grip.
The soundtrack, by Thom Yorke (Radiohead) is similarly worth the price of the ticket alone.
Any film from Guadagnino demands to be seen, and Suspiria is no exception. But I kind of wish all this effort and skill had been expended in the service of a truly new story, not a project that invites comparison to an of-its-time unimprovable original.