Friday, May 24, 2019

Review: Suspiria (2018)

How does one remake a horror classic? For those adapted from a novel or story, like with The Thing (1982), you hew closer to the source material instead of the original Hawks film or like with The Fly (1986), you keep elements but go off in your own direction. When the movie you are remaking is from an original script and a beloved film, as is the case with Suspiria, there is a fear that you are either going to tread too closely ala Halloween (2007) or end up being so inferior that people will wonder why you just didn't make a different movie in the first place. So when the Suspiria remake was announced, it was understandable that there was some concern about how it might turn out. After all, that film is highly regarded by horror fans and started off Argento's Three Mothers trilogy that consists of Suspiria, Inferno and The Mother of Tears. The Three Mothers include Mater Lachrymarum (Our Lady of Tears), Mater Suspiriorum (Our Lady of Sighs), and Mater Tenebrarum (Our Lady of Darkness), for those unfamiliar with his work.

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I have to say that it was bloody brilliant.

The film, directed by Luca Guadagnino from a script by David Kajganich, keeps some elements of the original but diverges enough and fleshes out the world around it enough to wholly separate it from yet build upon the mythology of the Dario Argento original. It also subverts some of your expectations, much like Night of the Living Dead (1990), so you have no way to expect what might exactly come next.

The plot focuses on the arrival of Susie Bannion at the Helena Markos Tanzgruppe in Germany in 1977, and Dr. Josef Klemperer, a psychotherapist who in investigating the disappearance of one of the dancers in the group who had been a patient of his. As Susie rises the ranks in the dance group and is plagued by nightmares and odd happenings, Dr. Klemperer discovers that the matrons in the dance group may actually be a coven of witches.

That's all I can really say without delving into too many spoilers, and this is the type of movie you want to watch without knowing much in advance so you can absorb the atmosphere and get taken along for the ride the same as the characters on screen are. It's a re-imagining of the Argento original that takes some cues and adds new ones as the tale is woven to its climax.

As Susie, Dakota Johnson display a great physicality that mesmerizes you with her dance and an emotional distance of a stranger in a strange land, of which a Berlin torn by the efforts of the RAF, as well as the intimate need to find a new mother after losing hers. In the role of Madame Blanc, the famed instructor that Susie has come to study under and also the role of Dr. Klemperer is Tilda Swinton, whose ethereal mutability throws her into the two different parts and two different genders. Swinton is one of the finest actors working today and it shows as Blanc where she can turn from severe when instructing her students to almost motherly when helping Susie along on her quest.

The lurid colors of Argento's original have been eschewed for a muted palette that mirrors the bleakness of the world outside the dance studio. It's a bold choice and one that works, as trying to imitate Argento or outdo him would be too easy a decision. This pays off in the few moments where color is allowed to come out and cover the frame and results in some stunning imagery. Equally few are the moments of grisly murder, allowing the ones we see to stand out and shock us with some rather spectacular special effects. Instead, we are allowed to bask in the escalating tension that pervades each scene as we wonder what will become of Susie in her dealings with the coven.

All-in-all, this is a worth addition to the world of horror remakes that builds upon, rather than supplants the original. At nearly three hours (six acts and an epilogue) it does feel a little long at times, but there weren't many points where I was sitting and hoping they would get to the next scene as there is world-building going on and few run longer than they have to, so there is a conscious effort to keep things moving. I was impressed enough to wonder how Guadagnino would handle the other films in the Three Mother's Trilogy and hope we get them in the future.

Suspiria is available on Amazon Prime now and is a great way to spend a night.

Check it out.

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