With my legs, I could be a beautiful dancer. I unfortunately was blessed with no rhythm.
Another Remake… But How Does It Stack Up to the Rest?
Dario Argento’s Suspiria from 1977 is one of my absolute favorite horror films of all time. I would easily rank it inside of my top 10 horror movies; I find the cinematography to be inspiring and its atmosphere chilling, I truly love the film. So to say that this remake had to live up to high expectations for me is completely accurate, I won’t deny that. From the trailers though, I was extremely excited to see how this remake was going to turn out because it seemed to be using a very 1970s filmmaking aesthetic in its advertising while not completely copying Argento’s vibrant color scheme from the original. Now after seeing it, I can honestly say that in some ways Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake surpasses the original. However, as a whole, it isn’t quite as strong. What do I mean by that? Well… read on.
More or less following the same premise as the original, Susie Bannion is a young ballerina who travels from America to Berlin so she may study dancing at the Markos Tanz Company, a world-renowned school under the tutelage of Madame Blanc. At first, it seems to be a dream come true for Susie, that is until strange things start happening with all of the students; mysterious disappearances and disturbing accidents plague this school all while Madame Blanc and her staff seem to be holding some sort of dark secret as these hauntings among the young girls reign terror.
For most of this movie, I really was with it. The story, while fairly similar to the original, felt its own. It took a similar plot while creating its own story out of it. In case you are unaware of this premise, it is about a coven of witches running this dance school. Yes, a lot of things remain the same while still taking a slightly different approach or making a turn that isn’t quite the same. I really appreciated that about this film; it showed respect for its source material and other Argento productions without retreading what has already been done before. From its story to its scares and cinematography even, it all looks and feels like a film straight out of the 1970s, but it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of Argento’s masterpiece. While there were plot points that are applied from the ’77 film, the remake still accomplished being relatively unpredictable as to exactly where it was going which kept me guessing.
The story’s structure itself is actually probably more solid than the original if I’m being perfectly honest. I love the original, every single frame of it, but the story can come across as a bit of a mess as it does go from one thing to the next rather radically at times. What holds it all together cohesively is its superb camera work and lighting, as well as its terrifying scares and atmosphere. With the remake, it seems to have found a better balance of story and style for the most part. The cinematography and editing are expertly crafted and added to the film’s identity in a great way.
There is a disparate take on the body horror element as well. Argento’s film certainly maintained a brutal form of violence, and so does this one but in a creative and original way all on its own. There is one scene in the remake that I would say is more disturbing and cringe inducing than what was seen in the original.
This particular scene involved one of the young students upset after an argument she had with Madame Blanc during a class, in which a spell of some sort is cast on her to make her body deform and twist to literally collapse upon itself. It was a very long sequence that was horrifying to watch as every bone shattered and organs ruptured within her distorting body, all of this without showing even a drop of blood which only made it more intense. I couldn’t look away, yet the entire time I kind of wanted to shut my eyes for how cruel it got. That may sound like a negative, but I actually mean that positively because it created so much tension and fear for what these witches could do. This whole sequence was actually stylishly spliced in with a dance sequence, which turned into a bit of a motif that this film took on.
Every dance practice, recital or show also always included a spine-chilling scene to be interwoven with and I found it to be brilliant. Especially with the fantastic effects work that went into the film, there is not a single mediocre special effect in the flick; they are all completely convincing and sometimes terrifying. Well, that is with the exception of one particular makeup effect which I will touch on later.
The acting on everyone’s part is terrific, with the exception of one role that isn’t necessarily bad but it is wildly miscast, everyone does a good job. Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton as their respective characters of Susie Bannion and Madame Blanc are really good as they command the screen with their presence. The physical performance that Johnson has to do in order to pull off these dances is impressively done, I was mesmerized by her precise movements in her routines. Swinton brings such a different take on her character from the original that I couldn’t help but appreciate, as she is a much seemingly warmer character than originally portrayed.
And This Is When Things Fall Apart…
I really was into most of this film and was along for a lot of this ride, but sadly there are things in this film that could have easily been cut and it would have been all the better for it. This is a two-and-a-half-hour film while the original was over and done with in 90 minutes. There is an extra hour added onto this story and it probably could have done without half of that extra time added.
As I mentioned above, there is one particular role that I felt was miscast and that would be Swinton’s second role as Dr. Josef Klemperer; an elderly man who lost his wife years ago, and his only connection with the story is that he counseled Chloe Grace Moretz’s character once in the first act. Even Moretz’s character could have been entirely cut out of the film and nothing would have really changed, but Swinton as this old man was severely distracting and served no purpose whatsoever. Story-wise, the doctor character has no real place in it as he supplies nothing to plot or character development, he feels forced in for no reason. Especially by the end of the story.
But also the fact that it is Swinton acting like an old man under all of this makeup that really isn’t very convincing with a voice that just sounds like Swinton trying to apply gravel to her own voice, it sadly doesn’t work. There’s no reason as to why this character was included in the film and there’s even less reason as to why it was played by Swinton other than for her to try showing range maybe? I don’t know for sure, she is a talented actress and I admire her efforts in everything I’ve seen her in. But this should have been cut; unfortunately, it takes up probably 20 minutes or so of screen time which drags the pace down immensely and provides nothing in return.
Then we hit the third act… even though I found the doctor’s inclusion completely pointless and boring, I was still with the story up until the third act when it kind of shot itself in the foot a little bit. There’s a twist that I’m not going to spoil, but it involves Johnson’s character, and I found it to be out of left field. I will say I did like the idea that it had for Susie, but I feel that it was not properly executed or fleshed out quite enough in order to work and it left the ending in shambles somewhat. It just felt so rushed when all that time spent on the doctor could have been used to set up this twist instead or supply a stronger third act.
It is only made worse with the last scenes focusing more on the doctor in this awkwardly tacked-on epilogue when he basically had almost nothing to do with the actual story. I also think that it may have been setting up a sequel as well with one odd final shot involving Johnson. I’m not entirely sure since it was so brief and practically showed nothing, but I suppose we shall see about that.
It’s Good, But I’m Disappointed.
This remake really is kind of a tough one to categorize and rank because for the majority of the film I truly did enjoy and even love certain aspects about it. But it has such a huge problem with pacing, structure and the third act that it’s hard to say whether it’s worth the watch because the ending may disappoint in a major way to some viewers like myself or the doctor character may be too distracting. I think that this is a scary film with major issues, if you can look past Tilda Swinton in obvious makeup putting on an old woman voice for an old man role and that the ending leaves something to be desired then this is still a solid sit. There are great horror sequences, an unpredictability to its story and wonderful actors doing good work here. But it is far from flawless. Maybe fast forward through the doctor portions so that you can eliminate some of that lengthy run time, but that won’t really fix what is wrong with the last act. Overall I think that I do recommend Suspiria as long as one keeps these negatives in mind. Dario Argento’s film may be stronger, but this isn’t without its ambitious merits too. So, I suppose, take that for what it’s worth and I hope that if you do give this a watch that you enjoy yourself!
Suspiria on Amazon Prime Video
© 2019 John Plocar