EXPECTATIONS: A polarizing piece of work that will fascinate as well as confound.
REVIEW: There are over 100 remakes being planned that are being planned at the moment but few of them have stirred up filmgoers as much as the long-planned remake of Dario Argento‘s 1977 classic horror film, Suspiria. With its brilliantly kaleidoscopic cinematography, the out-of-this-world musical score, the outrageously portrayed violence and the rough English dubbing had given Suspiria the edge to become one of the best slasher/occult films of all time. How is it that a remake is going to capture lightning in a bottle such as this?
After years of many false starts, with talents like director David Gordon Green, actresses Natalie Portman, Isabelle Huppert, Janet McTeer and Isabelle Fuhrman, we finally have a remake from the team that made the wonderfully sensual comedy/drama A Bigger Splash, consisting of director Luca Guadagnino, writer David Kajganich, editor Walter Fasano and actresses Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton.
Not only that, we also have established contributors like cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and acclaimed musician Thom Yorke. With such a vast array of talents, the remake is not going to go down without a fight. Does the film succeed on its own terms and become a worthy remake?
Set in 1977 during post-war Berlin, young American Mennonite dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives to audition for the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Co. When she vaults to the role of lead dancer in such a meteoric fashion, the woman, Patricia Hingle (Chloe Moretz), she replaces becomes hostile and accuses the company’s female directors (consisting of Tilda Swinton, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Craven, Sylvie Testud, Renee Soutendjik, Christine LeBoutte and others) of witchcraft.
Meanwhile, Josef Klemperer, an inquisitive psychotherapist with a tragic past and Sara Simms (Mia Goth) a member of the dance company uncover dark and sinister secrets as they probe the depths of the studio’s hidden underground chambers.
When one reviews a remake, is it possible to do so without talking about the original assuming if one knows about the original in the first place? Absolutely not. When the remake has the same story and the same name, how can one not talk about it?
But in the case of Luca Guadagnino‘s Suspiria, the only similarity with the original is the story framework, being that an American dancer enrolls to an dance company and sinister stuff happens. According to interviews, Guadagnino said that his film is not necessarily a remake but more of an adaptation of what he felt when he watched the original film. And it is on that note that he is able to put his own ideas and interpretations into the film and on that note, he succeeds wholeheartedly.
Instead of going for the simple, grandiose Grand Guignol extravagance that director Dario Argento adopted for the original, Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich are more interested in the power of themes and emotions that are prescient of the story’s setting as well as the present day. Since the story is set during the German Autumn, the German residents are in denial of indirect responsibility of World War II and since the stories about men are disparate from the stories about women, it adds to the perspectives of the characters’ actions in what they do in the story, regardless of however unpredictable their actions are.
Another factor is how the power of human emotion is adopted into the story, in comparison to the original film, which was written with the viewpoint of childlike wonder. In the remake, the female characters strive to work as a single coven(?), which allows their dance choreography to work out successfully. But through their actions and mindsets, they are emotionally driven (particularly by rage when one interferes with the coven or yearning out of the life situation they are in), regardless of the bigger picture around them. To go into more detail, the powers of the witches include mind-control, which gives credence to the themes, especially in the final act.
Another point to mention is the way of expressionism. In the original film, the majority of expression of mood, atmosphere and style is through extravagant, lavish colours from the cinematography. In the remake, the majority of the expressionism is expressed through the elaborate and surprisingly mechanical dance choreography (by renowned dance choreographer Damien Jalet) and the incongruously off-kilter musical score by Thom Yorke, which conveys feelings of control (or lack of it, during a sequence that involves choreography of the fractured kind), characters being entranced into immersion (the character of Susie even compares it to the act of sexual intercourse) as well as blind faith (as evident in the bonkers climax).
But major props to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who shoots the remake to adopt the 70’s film muted winter aesthetic, which not only lends credibility to the setting of the story, but also lends the film a dream-like quality whenever a primary colour enters the screen i.e. the colour of blood, a shadowy figure, the movement of long cascading hair.
Ditto to the costume designer Giulia Piersanti, who gives the female characters costuming that is reminiscent of Japanese bondage wear (with streams of red), but can be seen as a symbolic way of women proudly wearing their turmoils (red akin to blood of the events of story’s backdrop), in contrast to the male characters (precisely psychoanalyst Klemperer and minor characters) who wash or put their turmoils behind them in the case of logic and fact.
Credit should also go to the performances from the cast, since they all lend good support to Guadagnino’s singular vision. Dakota Johnson gives a good performance as Susie Bannion, conveying grace and commitment to the part, whether its the dance choreography and the dramatic character arc (which she goes from doe-eyed to entranced and finally steadfast in her position). Tilda Swinton (in multiple roles) is surprisingly restrained and yet somehow alluring in her presence, while Chloe Moretz makes the most out of her small role, as she conveys understated paranoia quite well; and Mia Goth exudes such a sunny disposition to her character that she becomes incredibly easy to relate to.
Speaking of audience relation, the storytelling, the contemplative pacing (thanks to editor Walter Fasano) and thematic power can be very alienating for audiences due to how unfathomable, esoteric and self-serious it is. And for fans of the original film, it can make the remake tedious for those who are just looking for genre thrills, which are ample in the original film. That is not to say that the remake doesn’t have the requisite horror tricks or moments of fun, it clearly does. But it is not executed in the way that an average viewer would think.
There are many moments of macabre gallows humour that hit their mark due to the timing in which they are presented as well as how outrageous they are, in contrast to the serious tone of the story. One example is how the witches use their mind-control powers on the men, which drew gasps and laughter from yours truly. The humour is also present in the dialogue eg. how Susie compares dancing to sexual intercourse of the lesser known kind.
And the film has all the arterial blood sprays, body horror, disemboweling, anatomy explosions that gorehounds can savour. But what makes them powerful is not well-defined characterizations that make the audience care about the characters or just the stellar production values, but the horror tropes are all grounded in what the female characters are trying to express, which are inherently red. For example, in the bonkers climax, the way the characters act and the settings are all bathed in red. In face value, it can be seen as blood, but for the characters, it can be seen as a metaphor of sensual and horrifying mix of love and anger since a pivotal character shows sympathy to others during an occurrence of brutal violence.
This reviewer is still in utter shock and awe about this film. It is unfathomable as it is uncompromising; it is ambitious as it is audacious; it is overwrought as it is darkly amusing and it is gory as it is expressionistic. It could throw you into the entire gamut of emotions on a massive scale or it could leave you scaling up the cinema steps due to sheer boredom. Either way, there really isn’t a remake like this out there and for that alone, Suspiria (2018) is to be applauded.
This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jessica Harper
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Screenwriters: David Kajganich, based on the 1977 film of the same name, by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi