Suspiria begins in a divided 1977 Berlin, Germany. The film opens with dance student Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she is succumbing to madness. Meanwhile, an American dancer named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives in Germany to attend the Tanz Academy. Led by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), the school is really a front for a malicious coven of witches. These witches are using the young women of their academy as a way to replenish their depleting powers. While the coven is also becoming dangerously divided, Susie is targeted to become the next vessel of co-leader, Helena Markos (also played by Tilda Swinton).
In the age of remakes and reboots, Suspiria is unique in comparison to many updated entries. Based on Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece, Tilda Swinton has referred to this version as a “cover version” of the original work. The actress has stated in interviews such as Academy Conversations that works such as Hamlet have been performed time and again. Each director, each actor has brought something new and different to the play. She makes an interesting argument for fans of remakes. Horror buffs easily consider their favorite movies to be works of art. Why shouldn’t a film such as Argento’s feature be considered by some to be their Hamlet?
I have to say I understand this sentiment. One of my favorite shows is Les Miserables, and I try to see the play every time a new tour comes to town. I am curious to see how this Eponine will choose to belt out “On my Own.” Or, how this Javert will take on “Stars” and so on. Of course not just any movie should be remade. Still, there is a certain joy to see beloved characters and situations come to life in a new way. So, the question the viewer has to ask is if this version of Suspiria is a worthwhile production? I argue that the way 2018’s Suspiria handles the ideas set forth by Argento and co-writer Daria Nicolodi is quite fascinating. Guadagnino maintains a certain respect for the material before taking the viewer on a wildly different journey.
The overall narrative is bloated by an extra twenty minutes. Nevertheless, the images and story will evoke strong reactions from the audience. Director Luca Guadagnino amps up the level of dance and narrative structure. In the original picture, Argento has seemingly picked ballet as an arbitrary device. Helena Markos is a witch and there is a suggestion that she used the dance academy as a front for teaching occult sciences; however, the Tanz Academy could really teach anything. On the other hand, Guadagnino very specifically uses dance as integral part of the narrative structure. One could even categorize his entire flick as a ballet of the bizarre. The update utilizes the dance sequences to highlight Susie’s growth as a character in addition to becoming a part of the coven’s ritual.
Guadagnino’s version employs an opposing color palette in comparison to the style by Argento. The original film uses a Technicolor-looking effect. Many confuse the 1977 edition as actually using that style but this has been revealed as false information. Either way, the color scheme is effective and leads the audience to believe they are watching a nightmarish fairytale come to life. The update chooses to do the opposite and lends the viewer a glimpse into a more realistic-looking Berlin. Even with such different styles, both movies are successful in creating an unsettling atmosphere. Guadagnino also uses a fun, retro zoom-in camerawork that is reminiscent of 1970’s horror flicks.
The performances in this almost all-female cast of Suspiria are intense and captivating. The women of the film have stated how much input they had working with the director and what is revealed is an important side of feminist art. In particular, Dakota Johnson and Mia Goth (Sara Simms) work well together to form a bond. Their roles reverse and in turn one takes the stronger position while the other is more vulnerable. Tilda Swinton is the star of this film. She takes on the multiple roles and in each one delivers something special and terrifying. The message of this production is how women, like any man, can become morally bankrupt. Once the group (or coven) is divided it will soon fall.
The Suspiria Blu-ray comes with limited but interesting special features. There are three segments each clocking in at about 3-4 minutes each. The Making of Suspiria shows the viewer a glimpse into some of the behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and director. The Secret Language of Dance is a piece interviewing the film’s choreographer Damien Jalet. He discusses his inspiration and choices for the feature. In particular, the joy he felt working with the dancers and actors. The Transformations of Suspiria centers on Mark Coulier, the prosthetic artist, and his designs for making Olga’s scene look gruesomely real.
As referenced above, a remake can simply be a new production of an iconic, beloved play. Or, it’s like hearing a different artist release a version of your favorite song. At best, you come to enjoy this new release while also being reminded of all you love of the original. Compare the two iconic versions of Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You.” There is the original 1974 recording and the edition made famous in 1992 by Whitney Houston. Both are beloved; yet, the artistic simplicity of Parton’s is very different from the powerhouse performance of Houston. If done well there is a certain joy to hear a new version. On many levels, Suspiria (2018) is successful by its own merit. Guadagnino remains true to the essence of the original while at the same time puts a completely different spin on the material.
To be clear, this “cover version” is not for everyone. People are going to love it or hate it. Guadagnino set out to create a similar experience to what he felt when watching Argento’s work. Both directors succeed with each film because they set out to force the viewer to feel strong emotions. Whether those emotions are good or bad is up to the viewer. Argento delivered a stylish fairytale dipped in the sprayed blood of each victim. The gore was intended to have an artificial quality becoming a horrific piece of visual art. Guadagnino left behind the dark fairytale to create a production steeped in realism. His vision encapsulated the essence of the original and let the supernatural events unfold in a way that they could happen in the “real world.” And it is revolting. Sickening. Powerful. Inspiring. And above all, horrifying.
The Suspiria Blu-ray will be released Tuesday, January 29th.
Wicked Rating: 9/10
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer(s): David Kajganich, Based on Suspiria by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz
Release: October 26, 2018 (United States, limited), November 2, 2018 (United States, wide-release)
Studio/Production Co: Amazon Studios, K Period Media, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Vega Baby
Language: English, German, French
Length: 152 minutes
Genre: Supernatural Horror