Remakes are a controversial thing among horror fans. I’ve never really understood the hate, remakes have been a part of show business since the days of the theatre. Things are redone as times, technology and society change. Sometimes the new versions are improvements, other times not so much, but they happen. And will continue to happen. So, like with any announced film, I just hope for the best, no matter how bad an idea it sounds. And remaking SUSPIRIA sounded like a very bad idea.
I honestly never thought the long-proposed remake of Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA would ever happen. And it’s a film I really couldn’t see being redone, although the anime version that was mentioned at one point did sound interesting. But here we have it, from Luca Guadagnino, the director of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, of all people. The result of this unlikely combination is interesting, to say the least.
The first thing you notice is the drab, gray colours replacing the original’s almost comic book styling. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it fits the setting, the divided city of Berlin in 1977. Apart from being a much more realistic look, it serves notice that Guadagnino is making his own version of SUSPIRIA, not just copying the original.
The second thing you notice is the score. Gone is Goblin’s iconic theme and creepy electronics. Instead, we have Thom Yorke from Radiohead providing a score that’s much more subdued and kept in the background much of the time. I wasn’t quite as happy with this even though it makes sense to match the sound and the look of the film.
By a little over half an hour into the film, I was sold. The basic plot remains the same, a young dancer, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson 50 SHADES OF GREY BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE) comes to study at a prestigious European school of dance, ( sharp-eyed viewers will catch a cameo by Jessica Harper who played the part in the original). But Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton SNOWPIERCER, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE) and her staff have some dark secrets to hide. Blood, death, and witchcraft are all part of this dance macabre.
However with an almost two and a half hour running time, an hour longer than the original, it’s obviously telling its own version of the tale. After delivering a jarringly brutal and brilliantly edited killing SUSPIRIA settles into a slower pace. It mixes nightmares, flashbacks, and other odd occurrences with an investigation by Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton billed as Lutz Eberdorf).
We first see him in the film’s opening scenes. He’s talking to a terrified young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz CARRIE, KICK ASS) about the goings-on at the Helena Markos Dance Company. Initially skeptical he becomes less so when she disappears. In one sense he’s one of the film’s touchpoints with the real world. In another, he’s a reflection of the bizarre
Most of the film’s violence is held back for the final act, and it is quite the payoff. For some, it will be too long of a wait, (the film could have been trimmed a bit), but it’s worth it. Both graphic and visceral, it’s also oddly poetic, (and features Swinton in a third role). The shots of some of the girls continuing to dance in the midst of the carnage briefly brings to mind 2018’s other dance/horror film CLIMAX. Despite the lack of Born To Be Alive on the soundtrack, SUSPIRIA is the better of the two by far.
This isn’t going to be a film for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. It’s not as good as the original, damn few films are. But it is an above-average work that can wear the title SUSPIRIA with pride.