Movie Review: Suspiria (2018)



Starring: Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton
Directed By: Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours 32 minutes

          The original Suspiria is an Italian horror movie from 1977.  Directed by Dario Argento, it was a giallo (GI-low) film.  GI-low, not Jello.  It means there’s a mystery element in the movie.  They’re violent thrillers.  A whodunit with blood.  This might be one of the most famous examples of that type of filmmaking.  I love the original Suspiria.  It’s colorful, full of some of the best cinematography you’ll find in a horror movie.  The story’s a little cuckoo.  Doesn’t really fit together.  But you don’t care cause it’s fun and bloody.

          Last year a movie came out about a gay love affair called, “Call Me By Your Name”.  It was directed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino.  The exposure allowed him to fulfill his dream of remaking Suspiria.  Paying respect to Dario Argento, an idol of his, in the process.  OK cool.  I’m on board.  This project probably isn’t essential, but it gets eyeballs on the original Suspiria.  I like that.  Josh Odson is still with you.

          Then Guadagnino came out and said this won’t really be a retelling of the same story, but his version of the story.  OK.  That’s not really a remake at all then, you’re just copying another dude’s work cause you think you can make it better.  I’m less on board, but I’m still game because your previous work has been good.  I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.

          That might have been the wrong call.  The 2018 version of Suspiria is a rambling, almost incoherent, self-aggrandizing piece of work.  At 50 minutes longer than the original, the movie becomes a chore.  The only similarity is has to the original is that both take place in a German dance Academy.

          An American girl comes to the best dance academy in the world, which happens to be in Germany.  Students keep disappearing mysteriously, and everyone seems to think witches are the cause of the rapidly dropping attendance.

The film starts out weird, and ends even weirder.  It settles into a nice rhythm in-between those two parts, but Suspiria could have been so much better.  I’m here for elevated horror movies.  I loved Hereditary, The Witch, A Quiet Place.  Intelligent horror movies are being made more frequently and have shown if done correctly, they can do good business.  Suspiria is not that film.

          It’s a big swing.  They’re trying to tell a lofty story.  A complicated plot.  Heady themes.  This is a real thinker.  It never hits the notes you think it’s going to.  It never does what you want it to.  Some people are going to love that, but others (aka the masses) will be turned off by it.  I respect that it wanted to further the ideas of the original, it just didn’t land with me.  To get away with that, you have to give the viewer some of those horror staples.  The movie never dumbs itself down for the audience even when it should for a scene or two.

          Suspiria does a lot of things really well.  Tilda Swinton plays three roles in this movie, she’s phenomenal.  Bone chilling.  Dakota Johnson, who I’ve said is one of our nation’s worst actresses is actually pretty good here.  The star of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy does even more weird things in this movie…and yes, she’s naked again.  She trained to become a dancer for this role for six months, admitting she needed extensive therapy after filming because of the deep psychological trauma this movie gave her.         

          And this film is a total mind bleep.  It’ll constantly make you say “what the hell is going on?”  Sometimes good.  Sometimes bad.  It nails the body horror angle.  The ending scenes are some of the bloodiest on film.  It’s got good elements of horror in it, but it always reverts back to talking in riddles and code.  Great body horror, this movie twists and mangles people in the most brutal ways possible, but ultimately Suspiria isn’t concerned with scaring the viewer.  It simply wants to unnerve you.  As weird as it sounds, as much as it sounds like I hated it.  It almost succeeded.  It came real close.  It’s a really disturbing movie.  I can’t get it out of my mind.  It haunts your brain afterwards.  So it’s effective, but I didn’t have an ounce of fun watching it.

          There’s an entire subplot involving a man searching for his sister he believes escaped a concentration camp.  That wasn’t in the original.  It was added for almost no reason whatsoever.  I think by taking that story out of the movie, you have a tighter, better, and scarier picture.

          Suspiria is an interesting intellectual exercise that is too ambitious to ignore, but too pretentious to recommend to anyone listening tonight.  It’s certainly never boring, but it is rarely satisfying.

On a scale of "See It/Stream It/Skip It" I would vote Skip It. Too long, too boring.  I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone but the most die hard of horror fans.

If you liked Mandy, Suspiria (1977), and mother! You might like Suspira (2018)

2 out of 5 stars


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