Suspiria (2018) [REVIEW]

The original Suspiria is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, thanks to Dario Argento‘s moody color palette, Jessica Harper‘s frantic performance, Goblin‘s hypnotizing score, and, well, I love witches. In that regard, you’d think, “Wolfman, you must be so pissed that the movie is getting a remake!” In some cases, you’d be right to try to warn me about not seeing movies, but with Tilda Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino on board, I had faith that the final product wouldn’t merely be a cash grab. I even watched the Fifty Shades movies because Dakota Johnson was starring in the remake! FIFTY SHADES, I SAY! Luckily, I was right to be hopeful, as this year’s Suspiria takes the core components of the original that intrigued audiences and reimagined them in fresh ways to deliver one of the most captivating and horrifying theatrical experiences of the decade.

Susie Bannion (Johnson) has dreamed her whole life of becoming a student of world-renowned ballet instructor Madame Blanc (Swinton) in Berlin. When she finally manages to score an audition, she demonstrates her impressive abilities while Blanc sees that she has potential not only as a dancer, but also as an integral component of their coven comprised of dance instructors. As the training gets more intense, Susie’s abilities, both of the athletic and otherworldy varieties, grow as the coven prepares to fulfill their master plan of mayhem.

In a loose narrative sense, this film is absolutely a Suspiria remake. I mean, it features a ballet school in Germany in the late-’70s that is run by witches, so you can’t argue with that. In execution, however, there’s little about this film that resembles Argento’s original and, in this humble Wolfman’s opinion, that friggin’ rules.

When people look fondly on the original movie (such as I), it’s less about the narrative beats or the dialogue and more about the atmosphere, the colors, the music, and the overall dream-like quality that Susie herself seems to be experiencing as she visits a foreign land. This remake feels almost nothing like Argento’s, as many of the colors are muted, the music is more melancholy, the characters are more layered, and the horror elements are cranked up by a thousand. The original is unequivocally a horror film, yet few horror fans I’ve encountered are actually scared of it. Guadagnino’s Suspiria is a fucking nightmare. While he uses violence and graphic imagery sparingly, when he does, it goes for broke with its disturbing visuals and bodily disfigurements.

Despite how effective the horror iconography might be, the film is also incredibly human, thanks in large part to Dr. Josef Klemperer, aka Lutz Ebersdorf aka Tilda Swinton. From the moment Susie arrives at the school, it’s clear that she’ll stop at nothing to become the best dancer she can be, while many of the characters she encounters are there to either support her journey or to warn her about the witches. Klemperer was tipped off to the nefarious activities that take place at the school and, with little else to live for, devotes much of his time to investigating these claims. We ultimately learn that Klemperer was separated from his wife in World War II and was never able to reunite with her, his lifelong regret. Those regrets prevent him from giving up on any poor souls who might be in danger at the dancing academy. This character was completely absent from the original and juxtaposes Susie’s descent into darkness with humanity, making both characters’ journeys much more emotional for the viewer.

As you can imagine, Swinton is great as Madame Blanc and Helena Markos, with her performance as Ebersdorf as Klemperer receiving mixed reactions. While I understand why people may have been distracted knowing that there was something “off” about the doctor, I was totally willing to suspend my disbelief because, well, it’s a movie. Hopefully those who were frustrated with the decision to have Swinton play three roles can give the film another watch and appreciate what Swinton and Guadagnino were going for by having her play these three important characters. I’m not super familiar with Johnson, but her hollow and mostly lifeless performance worked for the role, as it demonstrated her tunnel vision towards becoming a great dancer, a far cry from Harper’s manic paranoia in the original film. Mia Goth as Sara, Susie’s classmate who tried to reveal what the teachers were up to, was an emotionally complex and endearing performance.

I haven’t listened to a new Radiohead album in the past decade, but I can’t stop listening to Thom Yorke’s score for this movie. It definitely sounds like a Thom Yorke album at times, yet it also delivers music that feels intrinsically linked to events that unfolded on screen. The released album feels like a combination of a soundtrack and a score, with some songs feeling like they could be released as singles while other tracks are unsettling and sound like they were created by demons. In particular, his track “Volk” and the accompanying sequence in the film is one of the more intense and terrifying scenes of the year.

As someone who regularly claims the original film as one of my all-time top five favorite horror movies, my expectations for this film were quite high and it still managed to exceed them. Much like the 2012 Maniac remake (based on another top five favorite horror movie), Suspiria boiled down the core components of narrative, tossed aside the elements that couldn’t be replicated, and completely reimagined new ways to convey those horrors. A truly exhausting experience at two-and-half-hours long, I am both in no rush to subject myself to the assaulting ordeal and can’t wait to witness it again. Not only is Suspiria one of the best horror remakes and best horror films of the year, but I also have no doubt that it could go down as one of the best horror films of the decade.

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