Movie Review: Suspiria

R | 2h 32min

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Stars: Dakota JohnsonTilda SwintonDoris Hick

by Jason Koenigsberg

A little late from capitalizing on the Halloween market as a horror movie, Luca Guadagnino’s follow up to his much honored, Oscar-winning love story Call Me By Your Name (2017) is a remake of Suspiria. One of the finest Italian imports from master filmmaker Dario Argento, Suspiria is often considered his masterpiece.   The decision to remake is an odd one but since it is not as well known among modern audiences as many other recent horror remakes, it seems like a logical decision from a studio standpoint, even though Suspiria was already loosely remade in 2010 with the Academy Award-winning Black Swan. In fact that may be more similar to the original than this film.   It opens up with a shot of a woman in the rain and immediately lets the audience know that we are in a divided Berlin in 1977. The woman is standing in the rain next to the Berlin Wall and runs into an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as a male psychiatrist. All of the lead and supporting roles in this version of Suspiria are played by women. There are maybe only a few background characters that are men and that is it. An obvious feminist statement about horror movies and women’s roles in horror movies and their place during the Cold War and Post World War II Germany.   The colors are drastically different in this version and instead of having the super bright contrasting colors of the original here since it is during Cold War Berlin the colors are much softer and muted, very few bright hues until they are needed near the climax as the movie gets darker and more supernatural. The framing and cinematography of Suspiria are masterfully done and reminiscent of a Kubrick film. It also features outstanding make-up effects which help make Swinton transform into one of her dual roles as a man, but even beyond that, the makeup helps to create some incredible horrifying visuals. Also, credit should go to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for a terrific score on his first motion picture. Fans of the original may miss the over the top bombastic sounds from the old Suspiria soundtrack by Goblin. It is certainly memorable, but the new score fits the tone of this Suspiria much better.

This Suspiria tries very hard to be the anti-slasher film. It sharply contrasts the expectations of conventional horror like the new Halloween movie. This movie wants to be horror with an epic and arthouse feel. For the most part, it succeeds. This is a very smart and beautiful looking movie with grotesque imagery. Some of the nastiest, most vile images one is likely to see in a mainstream American film this year that will stick in the viewers head long after the end credits roll, but it is never really scary. Tilda Swinton is Oscar-worthy once again as a chameleon-like actress in her dual roles, but Dakota Johnson as the main character is painfully boring. It is understandable that they wanted an actress to play a milk toast and banal white American Amish girl leaving her home on the farm to a prestigious world-renowned conservatory. But she has very little screen presence and charisma. Even when the film takes some wild twists near the end and her character goes through its conventional arc she still never commands the scenes the way a stronger actress would have.

  Despite being an artsy film, Suspiria is never really a subtle film. It is a disheartening feeling when one can tell the filmmaker was hoping to be subtle and clever but still manages to be blatant. The images and symbolism are all obvious and any keen moviegoer would pick up on clues the director gives the audience and know pretty much what is going to happen right before it does. What Suspiria lacks it also makes up for in droves when it gets political. This film deals with ghosts of World War II haunting a crippled Cold War-era Germany. The art decoration incorporated a lot of mirrors, windows and reflections in every shot, as if the characters are always being watched, or to mean that some of the characters are two-faced and cannot be trusted. They utilize these images in creative ways throughout the dance conservatory.   Beyond Suspiria having a political message it also deals heavily with themes of guilt and shame people carry with them from religion and from their mothers and how these issues can linger and terrorize people years later. It really makes being spurned by religious causes and having mommy issues feel traumatic. Some may see this movie and complain that the ending is absolutely bonkers. However, the ending is actually an eloquent conclusion making Suspiria a strong love story about how war and politics destroyed loving relationships for many couples. The pear being cut up in the final scene was a fitting metaphor and one of the pictures best moments. At 152 minutes Suspiria may seem like it will be a long haul going in, but the film and its six acts really flowed smoothly and never felt unnecessarily long. The powerful final shot resonates as well as a lot of the images in the last twenty minutes. This Suspiria is a remake in spirit to the original, not a carbon copy. The setting and characters are about the same as the original, but everything else feels very fresh and new. It is not flawless but for those looking for a unique experience in horror with beautiful and disgusting images that will remain in your conscience, see Suspiria.

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