Bilge of sighs
Although there are numerous horror films that I have embraced over the years, the genre is not a personal favorite for this squeamish film critic, so it was only when faced with the prospect of an impending remake that I finally worked up the nerve to watch Dario Argento’s 1977 classic Suspiria. Forty-plus years after its original release, I’m happy to report that the film is a complete blast, all over-the-top style, deranged energy and fever dream logic, with gonzo fairytale visuals and a rightfully iconic original score.
Unfortunately, watching Argento’s lean and hyper-potent gothic vision in such proximity to Luca Guadagnino’s plodding parade float of a remake does the latter film no favors, as there is not a single way in which the newer film compares favorably to its predecessor.
Of course, Guadagnino’s flavorless film is less a straight remake than a dreaded “homage,” with subtext becoming text, the unspoken getting spoken and tantalizing assumptions transforming into leaden story points. It’s like listening to an endless lecture on Suspiria delivered by someone with a tenuous grasp of the subject, as Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich white-knight to the rescue of a text that was never in any peril.
Based on the original 1977 screenplay by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, Guadagnino’s Suspiria retains the broad strokes—an American girl discovers evidence of witchcraft at a weirdo German dance academy—while changing most of the narrative and stylistic details and expanding the universe enough to allow for a clunky commentary about post-WWII guilt. The dance academy has been moved from Munich to Berlin, but the film still takes place in 1977, as the tragic events of the real-life German Autumn play out in news reports and street graffiti.
American ingenue Suzy Bannion from the original is now Susie Bannion, and she’s played by the unfathomably uncharismatic Dakota Johnson. In between monotonous line readings, Johnson occasionally bites her lip, Anastasia Steele-style, because I guess that’s her thing. Susie arrives at the academy as a replacement for Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz in a glorified cameo), who has gone missing after relaying fantastical stories about witches and demons to her elderly therapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer.
The part of Dr. Klemperer is credited to Lutz Ebersdorf, but it’s really Tilda Swinton buried in old-man makeup. (The character’s voice is so feminine and the mannerisms so obviously exaggerated, it’s hard to tell if this is a spoiler or not.) A barely recognizable Swinton pops up in a few other key roles in Suspiria, once again mostly unrecognizable under wads and wads of latex, and if Guadagnino’s film succeeds at all, it is only as a Norbit-style, tour de force showcase for Swinton.
Aside from Swinton’s chameleonic appearance and undisciplined but nonetheless compelling mugging, there is very little to recommend about this take on Suspiria. The pacing is flat and slow, the visuals are drab, most of the performances are lifeless and the film is only notable for its connection to the superior Argento original.