Suspiria review – dancing on the grave of a horror classic | Suspiria (2018)

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Dario Argento’s dazzling 1977 chiller Suspiria first opened in the UK in a censoriously truncated version, having suffered significant cuts to blunt its extremities. Horror fans were appalled and sought out more complete versions of the film, videotapes of which were promptly confiscated during the “video nasties” hysteria of the early 80s. How things have changed! Today, Luca Guadagnino’s grandiose Suspiria remake can sail into British cinemas with all its bone-cracking, skin-slicing, blood-letting intact – a cause for rejoicing, no doubt. Yet watching this sporadically sparkling yet weirdly saggy “cover version” of Argento’s biggest international hit, I couldn’t help wishing that someone had been there with the scissors to trim the film of its indulgences – not the violence, but the verbosity.

Set in “divided Berlin” and comprising “six acts and an epilogue”, Guadagnino’s film takes the premise of Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s original script, which itself drew inspiration from sources as diverse as Thomas De Quincey and Snow White. Dakota Johnson is Susie, the American who joins the prestigious Helena Markos Dance Company, within whose enclaves she uncovers witchy secrets. “There’s more in that building than what you can see,” says Chloë Grace Moretz’s rattled student Patricia, unburdening her soul to her ageing psychotherapist who thinks she’s suffering from paranoid delusions.

When Patricia goes missing, chain-smoking choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) suggests she has left the company because of her own political beliefs and agendas. Meanwhile, murmurings of earthly power struggles mingle with whispers about a triumvirate of mythical mothers (Sighs, Darkness and Tears) whose shadows haunt the academy. As the Mennonite-raised Susie impresses Blanc with her unique blend of innocence and strength, so she rises to the top of the troupe, playing the protagonist in the provocative “Volk” dance, which has become their sinister signature piece.

While Argento’s dreamy fantasia possessed an abstract, timeless quality (albeit with subtle allusions to Germany’s guilty past), Guadagnino and A Bigger Splash screenwriter David Kajganich focus – or maybe fixate – upon the socio-political specifics of their 1977 setting. News reports of the Baader-Meinhof group and discussions of the legacy of nazism are constantly to the fore, alongside declarative statements about the changing role of women in modern society and the indomitable power of motherhood.

It sounds intriguing (and at times it is), yet too often the result is clunkily mechanical, tending occasionally toward the risible. Whereas Argento relied on the power of cinema to tell his story (bold colours, expressionist camera angles, and that unforgettable Goblin score), Guadagnino insists on spoon-feeding us extraneous exposition, undercutting the creepy atmosphere while obfuscating a narrative overstuffed with diversions and distractions.

Tilda Swinton in Suspiria.
Tilda Swinton in Suspiria. Photograph: Allstar/Amazon Studios

On the performance front, Dakota Johnson cuts an impressive figure, rising to the choreographed challenges of her role with the same gusto that Natalie Portman brought to Black Swan (another auteurist hit that is indebted to Argento). Mia Goth, too, is reliably spiky as fellow dancer Sara, while original star Jessica Harper has a cameo-supporting role. As for Tilda Swinton, she plays three roles, one of which sees her essentially doing an impression of Max von Sydow’s Father Merrin from The Exorcist, buried under layers of ageing makeup.

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom lends a certain panache to proceedings, revelling in nostalgic glides and crash zooms as his cameras move amid the mirrored surfaces and pentagonal lines of Inbal Weinberg’s sharp production design. The colour palette may occasionally be muted, but there’s an overwrought energy that matches the earnest angst of the narrative, complemented by the mournful strains of Thom Yorke’s music.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, there is a decent 90-minute dance-driven art-house shocker struggling to get out. At times I was reminded of Gaspar Noé’s hyperventilating Climax, an unhinged movie that functioned on an almost entirely experiential level. In his definitive book Dario Argento: the Man, the Myths & the Magic, writer Alan Jones quotes Argento as calling his original Suspiria “an escalating experimental nightmare… a real magical acid trip”. More recently, Guillermo del Toro hailed Argento’s masterpiece as a “work of pure madness and cinematic joy”. It’s that sense of joy that is missing from Guadagnino’s version. For all its OTT elements (which include riffs lifted from Argento’s 1980 Inferno), this Suspiria remains peculiarly dour, weighed down by the gravity of its own strange self-importance, like a dancer unwilling – or unable – to simply leap into the air and fly.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Suspiria review – dancing on the grave of a horror classic | Suspiria (2018)

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