Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” is his most successful and iconic film. Not only in its critical reception and box office receipts but it is frequently looked upon as one of the most defining and influential horror films of all time with its dynamic usage of colors and crazy expressive set pieces. It is a film that you probably find many people refer to as an “untouchable” masterpiece. Some might disagree with that though, and Luca Guadagnino is one of them.
The popular Italian auteur has chosen to follow up his 2017 coming of age awards darling “Call Me By Your Name” with a remake of Argento’s classic. The thing is it might not be fair to call this a remake but rather a reframing of key elements from the original.
Guadagnino himself said in an interview with The Guardian that this is “an homage to the incredible, powerful emotions I felt when I saw [the original].” And after seeing, the film that is a very unsurprising thing to hear because Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is a film built off of powerful unsettling emotions and compelling imagery.
To be frank, I don’t think I’ve ever been more glad someone has remade something like this.
This film follows the same general premise of the original film. We follow an American dance student named Suzie (a tremendously dark turn for Dakota Johnson) as a newcomer at a prestige German dance school (whereas the first film takes place in Freiburg, this film has the action set in 1977 Berlin with the school set right across the street from the Berlin Wall) that may or may not be run by a sadistic coven of witches, lead by the elusive Madame Blanc (played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton, who also plays two other characters underneath layers of makeup).
It’s a truly great premise for a film and we’re lucky enough to now have two films that utilize it in very different one-of-a-kind ways.
Stylistically, Guadagnino goes in the exact opposite direction as Argento. The aesthetic is grounded, there are no stylized colors, it’s muted with a soft 35mm grain. Guadagnino also trades the psychedelic score of the original for a serene and unsettling composition from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
Guadagnino emulates a lot of qualities from the New German Cinema movement. The film uses the uneasy political climate of Germany in the ‘70s as a striking backdrop mixed with an air of intense generational guilt from World War II and the lingering threat of history repeating itself. It’s a very distinct thematic detail that is made even more fascinating by how Guadagnino blends it with his themes of motherhood, femininity, and communities built and preserved solely by women.
The film isn’t just thematically rich but is filled with so many breathtaking stylistic flourishes. One of the biggest gripes I’ve always had with Argento’s original film is the lack of physicality in its narrative and horror for a film centered on dancing. Guadagnino not only brings the physicality but he capitalizes on it. There are so many dance sequences that are so meticulously choreographed and edited to elicit a truly visceral experience. Without spoilers, the grand climactic dance number of the film is one of the most terrifying and alluring sequences ever put to film. They move with the pace of agile demon.
It is sequences like that that make “Suspiria” a sort of revelation for modern horror cinema. Today, in the Blumhouse Production-era we praise shoestring horror films for being quiet and minimalist. But with “Suspiria” we have a horror film that is a genuine extravagant spectacle with aggressive and gruesome imagery and scares built purely from tone, emotion, atmosphere, and bombastic cinematic tricks.
IMAGE COURTESY OF IMDB
I love horror and I love outlandish go-for-broke filmmaking and Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is a perfect marriage of those. Top-to-bottom it reminds me of what I actively look for in films in any given year. A hyper-violent feminist piece of arthouse horror that puts you under its spell and doesn’t let go for its entire 152-minute runtime. Even though they are very different, much like the original, this is a stone cold masterpiece that will be reflected upon and admired for centuries to come.
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