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Suspiria attacks heady themes with garish vigor, offering a viewing experience that's daringly confrontational - and definitely not for everyone.
Suspiria attacks heady themes with garish vigor, offering a viewing experience that's daringly confrontational - and definitely not for everyone.
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All Critics (235)
| Top Critics (39)
| Fresh (145)
| Rotten (90)
Ambitious, grandiose, occasionally compelling but far more often irritating and laughable.
The Argento is a marvel of style-as-subject; Guadagnino subjects audiences to second-hand shocks.
The filmmakers' insatiable curiosity and grandiose sense of spectacle keeps Suspiria from becoming half as annoying as it should be.
Guadagnino is so intent on fulfilling his vision he doesn't seem to have room for any perspective besides his own, leaving the women in his narrative underserved in spite of his incredibly skilled efforts.
"Suspiria" casts quite a spell.
"It's a mess, isn't it?" Susie says at one point, and she's certainly got that right.
Suspiria is a technically exquisite remake of Dario Argento's classic Italian horror film of 1977 and clearly a labour of love for its director, Luca Guadagnino.
As with 99pc of horror outings, Suspiria unravels in its final acts into a wheezing farce. A bit of a missed opportunity, you feel.
Besides the purely visual, the film's great strength, unless it is the film's most terrible failure, is its absolutely wild, aggressively indistinct structure.
A beautiful, slow, startling, surprising, and bloody experience all at once.
Kajganich is a purveyor of pretentious piffle.
A beguiling, macabre, at times feverish remake with more to admire than enjoy. It'll churn your soul.
The idea of remaking Dario Argento's horror classic Suspiria seems like movie heresy. How could any filmmaker attempt to come close to the Italian master's original? Though that has not stopped Hollywood from remaking other horror classics of yore. Italian director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, A Bigger Splash) tempts the unwise with a new version of Suspiria, this time following the exploits of Susie (Dakota Johnson) in Cold War Germany as she is seduced by a private dance company lead by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) that's really a front for the occult. The new Suspiria is a worthy, splashy artistic endeavor but it suffers from too much airy meandering in the name of redundant atmosphere, vague and arbitrary plotting, and poor characters.
We're told up front this is a story in six acts and a resolution but frankly the first two acts could have been completely eliminated. Their bearing on the overall story is minimal, but then I could say the same thing about much of the characters. Chloe Grace Moritz's role could have been entirely cut. The majority of the story is strange things happening very slowly in the background of a dance school. The characters that do investigate aren't our protagonists, which then traps us with people who know too much and won't share, people who don't know anything, and people who don't want to know anything. It gets frustrating spending that much time with them, especially when the end destination (coven conspiracy sacrifice) is obvious even if you haven't watched the 1977 original. I was told that Guadagnino edited an hour out of the final movie. How? What in the world was left out? It feels like everything they could have shot found its way into the finished film, whether it needed to be there or not. There's an ongoing subplot about the Red Army Faction (a.k.a. Baader-Meinhof Gang) that we keep returning to as if there's supposed to be larger relevancy. It's a left-wing conspiracy that translated post-war anger into violence against the government. If I work really hard I can make a larger thematic connection to witches and women, but I won't. With Suspiria 2018, it's really just historical atmosphere that adds little but yet is returned to again and again. There is even a post-credit scene of a character doing something unclear while looking toward the camera. Why include any of that? It's arbitrary and superfluous to the very end.
The new Suspiria toggles through three tepid lead characters: 1) Johnson's new dance recruit, 2) Swinton's artistic director at the school, and 3) Swinton in old-age makeup as a grieving psychiatrist trying to make sense of his life (yes, "his," as she plays a man). Two of these characters matter in strict plot terms and only one of them are granted some degree of characterization. Susie is essentially an empty vessel who is extremely passive, going along with whatever she's told (there is a reason for this but it falls under the category of contrived dues ex machina). There are hints of the connection she has to some occult force at play, but we don't really see any transformation on her part because she's so opaque to start with. Madame Blanc is the most interesting character, somewhat by default, but she only becomes that in the last third of the film when her personal feelings for Susie make her doubt how far she's willing to go to achieve the coven's goal. It's the only character with a direct internal conflict that seems to matter to the story. The old man has no reason to be in this movie. By the end, it feels like the film has found a significant story reason for his inclusion, one that will actually produce some thematic relevance for Swinton also playing this role, but nope. He serves no purpose other than exposition and to hammer home a tangential historical context of generational guilt. There is a nice character moment between two characters in the resolution but by then it's too little too late. Even this nice moment doesn't really need to happen. I think the reason the film toggles between these three characters is even it knows you will get bored with them.
When the horror hits, that's when Suspiria is at its most rattling. Watching a woman's body betray her, one excruciating limb convulsion after another, culminating in her own jaw seeming to rotate out of her head, is wince-inducing and terrifying. The sudden jolts of violence made me gasp and squirm every time. This culminates in a third act that is heavy on blood and lunacy, so much so that it feels like the finale to another movie. If the proceeding two hours was understated, atmospheric horror, the last thirty minutes feels like the splatterific Sam Raimi Evil Dead 2. There's an explicit campiness that feels at odds with the self-serious meanderings of earlier. There are also moments that cannot be described as any other word than "goofy." There's an ongoing shot of characters being dispatched in a very exaggerated and theatrical manner, and the fact that we watch thirty of these in a row just invites some degree of laughter. I know I laughed. The final act and confrontation is my favorite part of the film, delivering some long-sought vengeance, but it feels like a different movie. It's also where Guadagnino's "put the camera anywhere" stylistic approach betrays him. It's hard to tell what exactly is happening on a literal level, let alone understanding it, and that's not even taking into account the muffled sound design of several characters when they hoarsely whisper aloud whatever.
I would be more forgiving if the new Suspiria had not been as exasperatingly long, a full hour longer than the 1977 original. Long movies only feel long when they haven't fully engaged you, and there are generally only so many ways to keep an audience's sustained attention and investment. I understand wanting to allow a movie to breathe or wanting to create an uncertain atmosphere of intoxicating dread, but there has to be more than that. There's also what I'll affectionately coin the Nicolas Refn Trap, meaning where all of that breathing space ultimately exposes a lot of empty indulgences and vamping. Suspiria 2018 falls into this trap too often; there simply isn't enough of anything to spread over those 150 minutes. The odd comparison I would make is to the notorious 1980 Western disaster, Heaven's Gate, a movie I watched for the first time two years ago and actually appreciated. Let me be more specific: I appreciated the 100-minute very good movie somewhere inside there suffocated by the artistic excesses and peculiar and mercurial artistic demands from its uncompromising director (the man refused to shoot anything for ten hours until he got a cloud positioned exactly where he wanted). I'm convinced there's a potentially great movie in Suspiria but it's going to require a lot of excavation to allow it to see the outside.
I was interested in re-watching Argento's 1977 original for the first time in years, and some things have aged better and some things have aged worse. Argento is a first-class visual stylist and his famous use of color makes the cinematography often beautifully horrific as young women are terrorized. There is even less plot than I remembered, a series of surreal murders finally leading to the obvious reveal of the dance company being a coven of witches. The characterization is even thinner than the thin 2018 film, which means that Guadagnino and company had a lot of room to roam when it came to their grandly grotesque remake. Argento's film is a remarkable example of the immersive power of the screen, with his gorgeous use of light and color, production design, and a pulsating score that is perhaps a bit too omnipresent and anxious. There is one reoccurring musical sting that sounded precisely like the beginning of "Footloose" and it made me laugh every time, imagining Kevin Bacon dancing through the hallways. It's a testament to the transcendent power of style when done by a first-rate stylist, and it works so far as to create a nightmarish, oppressive atmosphere. However, that eerie atmosphere and technical craft are about all the original Suspiria has to offer since there is a gnawing scarcity when it comes to characters, structure, and story. That makes the 2018 Suspiria a little more confounding. While it clearly works as an homage to Argento it's also radically different, and yet it still manages to also have underwritten characters and bad storytelling choices even when it could have ditched the original's original sins. At least Argento's version is only 90 minutes and a lot easier to watch in one sitting.
The Suspiria remake was clearly a labor of love and not a soulless paycheck for all those involved. The technical craft is accomplished, and even though it lacks the vibrant colors of Argento's original the cinematography is still highly evocative and unsettling. Guadagnino has put a concerted effort into making his movie operatic, lavish, and radically different from the source material. I think it's different yet reverent enough that fans of the original will find something to enjoy as the film asserts its own identity. And yet the moody atmosphere is undercut by the shortcomings of the characters and the contrived nature of the overly padded and meandering plot. The more I think back on the movie the more it falls apart under further scrutiny. Suspiria is a tonally confused movie that doesn't have enough substantial material to fill out its gargantuan 150-minute running time. There will be blood but what there needed to be was a more judicious editor.
Nate's Grade: C
AUTUER! AUTEUR! - My Review of SUSPIRIA (4 Stars)
Whoever said the auteur theory is dead hasn't been paying attention lately. With films like ROMA, MOTHER!, and now SUSPIRIA, directed by Luca Guadagnino (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, A BIGGER SPLASH) and written by David Kajganich (THE TERROR), handily demonstrating that even in the current state of cookie cutter cinema, a lucky few filmmakers get to do whatever the fuck they want. There's no other way to explain this absolutely bonkers, not for everyone, ever so loosely-based and ever so singular remake of Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic. At over 2 1/2 hours, SUSPIRIA over indulges for sure, but with such visionary, visceral work on display, when I wasn't cringing in disgust, I found myself chuckling with glee.
Set in a divided 1970s Berlin, SUSPIRIA opens with a distraught young woman named Patricia (an unnerving Chloë Grace Moretz) seeking the help of her therapist, Dr. Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, magnificent in a triple role tour de force). Mumbling incoherently, she disappears from the West Berlin Markos Dance Academy, leaving a vacancy. Enter Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), the daughter of Mennonites, who leaves her protective Ohio environment for a chance at a spot in the company led by the enigmatic Madame Blanc (Swinton again). Susie's waifish innocence contrasts greatly with the all-female troupe and Blanc's well-worn, blowsy support staff, yet one audition later and suddenly she finds herself named the "It Girl", capturing Blanc's attention and the lead in their next performance. Johnson's role is largely visual with only spare amounts of dialogue, but she's perfect. Like her mother, there's no hiding her gentle, vulnerable qualities, and it's what makes her a great movie star. You just want her to naively move across the ocean and make a splash.
Clearly, though, something is amiss, when this dance school turns out to contain a coven of witches. We hear the whisperings right away, but Susie seems oblivious or perhaps in denial. She just wants to dance goddammit! When she performs a solo on the troupe's signature piece, however, a dancer trapped on the floor below her, experiences bone-crunching, contorted torture with every one of Susie's spins, leaps, or reaches. Special kudos to the sound mix and the haunting score by Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who is finally writing melodies again! [Radiohead fans, don't come for me!] Guadagnino, so skilled in his past work at evoking sights, sounds, smells, and texture in his masterful imagery, brings a profound sense of dread to the horror genre with a film with no real jump scares or traditional horror elements. Sure, it devolves into a veritable blood bath late in the film (told in 6 chapters and an epilogue), but SUSPIRIA is more interested in the horror of male guilt and of female rage. It overstuffs its messaging with references to the Holocaust, the Cold War, to the 1970s Lufthansa Hostage Crisis, and the Red Army Faction bombings, but the through line remains. Women will no longer remain silent in this world as they course correct from generations of humiliation and sublimation. SUSPIRIA is the ultimate #metoo film with the message of, "Join us or die, and men, we're gonna grab you by the dick for a change."
SUSPIRIA, thanks to Guadagnino's incredible skills as a director, feels original, despite at times feeling like the bastard child of the "Satan's Alley" sequence from STAYING ALIVE and ROSEMARY'S BABY with a dollop of THE NEON DEMON thrown in for good measure. Swinton's Madame Blanc exudes such sweet, gentle empathy even when in charge of bloody murders. It's female empowerment revenge with a measure of compassion for those she opposes. Yes, this film even has empathy for men, especially for Dr. Klemperer, who has a guilty past with a woman who provides a wonderful surprise of a cameo. Swinton's performance as Klemperer remains key to the surprising amount of kindness this film has to offer. You don't expect that out of a very bloody, over-the-top horror film, but SUSPIRIA, as nutty as it is, makes room for it. Despite a couple of minor roles played by men, every major part goes to a woman. I wondered why it wasn't also directed by a woman, but Guadagnino, a gay man, doesn't have the same male gaze as some of his straight counterparts, and besides, I just want to follow his voice as a filmmaker wherever it takes him.
Many will absolutely hate the movie. If you hated EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC but applauded its audacity, you may have the same feelings for SUSPIRIA. On the surface, it's monumentally silly and so so long, but it's a story told by a filmmaker brimming with passion and creativity. Guadagnino chooses to stage dialogue scenes where the actors speak to each other in voiceover. One of the biggest dramatic moments contains no dialogue at all, as Swinton and Johnson stare each other down across a crowded restaurant table. There are plenty of flash cut montages, body horror, stabbings, and oceans of blood, but this film maintains the real horrors are our collective pasts. Let women rule the world, the film seems to be saying, but make no mistake. There will be blood. Lots and lots of blood.
Bares only a slight resemblance to the original, but that's because Guadagnino found more things to explore, specifically how national guilt manifests itself in individuals.. A little overlong perhaps, but by the time that truly bonkers finale roles around I found myself invested in the madness of it all.
The German Autumn, some of the defining several months of Cold War Europe, occurred by no small coincidence during the initial release of Dario Argento's stylish slash-terpiece, the original Suspiria. But the violence of the outside world was of no consequence or concern to Argento's gory film world, wrapped up in the escapism and sensationalism of genre and formalism rather than sociopolitical subtexts and philosophical pedantry. It was either Jean-Luc Godard or Brian de Palma (or both) who once said in an interview "If you show the audience a gun, they wonder when you're going to shoot it. If you show them a woman, when will you undress it?" This regressive approach to horror was of primary aesthetic concern amidst the Giallo conventions that Argento helped construct, define and deconstruct, culminating in his 1977 magnum opus.
In stark contrast now stands Luca Guadagnino's remake to redactively set that story into its pertinent socio-political context, replacing the eye-popping color and lights of Argento's fantasy dance academy with the overcast, graffitied Berlin of Rainier Werner Fassbinder and Christiane F.. Instead of the theme of innocence lost in sexual maturity, the splintered, schizophrenic collapse and rebirth of post-WWII German culture looms as a monolith as vast as the Berlin Wall itself, hulking over this coven of dancing witches and providing a much different context to the characters and settings Susie Bannion (here played by Dakota Johnson) encounters. On one hand, there was an entire generation that still hadn't come to terms with being complicit in the greatest human atrocity in modern times, and on the other there was the disaffected youth witnessing the leaders of the Western world, arbiters of so-called justice hypocritically perpetrating injustice after Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
There is definitely a dialogue between this bygone era of political tumult and the West's current fascination with fascism. Paramount to this dialogue is the film's exploration of power structures, namely that in the past many forms of empowerment have relied on the subjugation and suffering of an other. As we come to find, even the self-sustained matriarchy of the dance academy feeds off of the talents and vigor of its students to sustain the old ways of its matrons. The corruptive nature of power can atrophy even the noblest of ideals (not saying Satanic witch cults are noble, but bear with me), and so many social movements are defined by the violence from their inception to their upheaval.
Who could have foreseen Trump and Bolsanaro? The Baader-Meinhof group called out those men's predecessors with bullets and bombs before even they were consumed by the very violence they perpetrated. Susie asks "Why does everyone assume that the worst is already over with?", and I have no doubt we have yet to see the worst the modern world has to offer. But the revolutionary act of questioning our power structures while accepting our role in their creation is the best way to make *heads explode* if we are to expect any progressive improvement in our dystopian malaise.
With all that being said, I much prefer the original. Guadagnino's take is more food for thought, there are some wonderful dance sequences, body horror shots, and the climax is about as "Satanic witch cult" as you could ever ask for, but about 70% of the movie is really drab looking and borderline plodding. I get that it's a "dark" movie with "dark" subject matter, but I was surprised to see the director ditch his summery eye for color for the perpetually rainy pall and atmosphere. As for Johnson, it's just straight up bizarre hearing the same actress who said, "It's boobs in boob land" earlier this year in Fifty Shades Freed spar with Tilda m-er f-ing Swinton about the abstract theoretical underpinnings of contemporary dance. Swinton herself is great as Madame Blanc, but I'm skeptical of the decision to have her cosplay as the old dude from Argento's Inferno. It's frustrating and distracting most of the time. Finally, Thom Yorke's soundtrack doesn't hold a candle to the frenetic magic of Goblin. Still, even with its shortcomings, Suspiria manages to be one of the best movies of the year in terms of thematic richness and basic craft, and I'm definite that it will be even more rewarding upon rewatch.
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