Dario Argento’s Suspiria is one of the greatest horror films ever made, so the idea of a remake being directed by Luca Guadagnino was something that already seemed tempting just on the basis of him being one of Italy’s most exciting working filmmakers. But what Luca Guadagnino had in mind for Suspiria was never going to be the same one you would already have remembered that someone like Dario Argento would have had everyone remembering over the years, so the idea of a new experiment that would pay tribute to the original film rather than outright remake it was something that could easily have gone either way. Luca Guadagnino has always remained one of the most interesting filmmakers of his own sort and as polarizing as the results may be, I can’t help but find that what Guadagnino created using the story of Argento’s film as a template for this new experiment would also be beautiful in its own way. It’s no ordinary horror film, one that isn’t guaranteed to win over new fans from anyone who is unfamiliar with the source material, but also not the other way around – yet Guadagnino comfortably makes it feel like it’s his own thing and to say the very least, it’s outstanding.
This isn’t exactly a remake in that same sense that it’s a film based on another film that came long before but a film that experiments with the same template that we’ve already familiarized ourselves with long ago. We all know the story of Susie Bannion (now played by Dakota Johnson), the American dancer who enrolls at a prestigious dance academy in Berlin – only to uncover a secret that the academy may also be a witch coven. This new interpretation of a story that Argento brought to the screen now takes place during the German Autumn in 1977 as a means of incorporating a more political background into the work, especially in capturing another downfall brought upon a nation by the Cold War. In turn, there’s one promise fulfilled in Guadagnino’s new take, he promised a new sort of film that felt like the perfect homage to Argento’s classic rather than a direct remake but perhaps the most exciting thing that Suspiria promises is a new sort of nightmare fuel – set inside of its own world, but resembling our own enough to that point it sticks.
It would be easy to say that Luca Guadagnino makes beautiful films, but Suspiria rarely ever looks like a film that would traditionally be recognized as being visually attractive – given the muted colour palette and the bleak nature of the film’s place in time, there’s a dreamlike quality that one recognizes on the spot. It all starts from the moment Thom Yorke’s “Suspirium” plays over the opening credits, which sounds so beautifully eerie and already sets up the atmosphere so perfectly, almost like the reflection of a dream – even making the more muted colours shine in such a sense too. Yorke’s score is incredibly dazzling from start to finish too, but the cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is mesmerizing – for there’s a strange beauty that arises from the way Guadagnino chooses to explore his own setting. Everything is beautiful as one could only ever come to expect from a film that was based on one of the most visually stunning horror films ever made, but something else that Guadagnino toys around with in the case of his own Suspiria film is open another gateway that starts simply from the dedication to a form of art.
Luca Guadagnino’s take is more indebted to the politics of its own setting than the original film is, but the manner in which it weaves itself into the central story’s context is also something worthy of note. As far removed as this may already make it feel when placed next to the original film, looking at how all of them tie together in this epic of some sorts also works to create horror that extends beyond its own setting but also makes clear the ambition on Guadagnino’s end. For some, the extension of the simple structure that was based only around the setting inside of the suspicious academy would already be enough to create something so terrifying but in Guadagnino’s version there’s also something more tragic – particularly in the subplot that involves Dr. Josef Klemperer (played by a wonderful Lutz Ebersdorf). But perhaps there could be something more that the doctor is seeing that the others don’t, being the sole male lead of the entire film – tying into the feminist politics of what happens on the inside of the academy, creating a new thread altogether. And to say the least, it looks beautiful.
With a cast that includes Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth, Tilda Swinton, among many more – there’s a whole lot that one could ask for out of the bunch, and even the smallest roles still manage to leave a mark (Chlöe Grace Moretz and Jessica Harper’s roles being perhaps the most evident of them all), and Kajganich’s screenplay gives them all the material that they would need in order to allow each one to throw themselves into the roles. In talking about what these new interpretations of familiar character arcs would have done for a new take on the same story, everyone does wonderfully enough – from the choreography to the intimacy of their own interactions, and then a whole lot more. But I’m still left thinking about what Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion does to her character – especially in her own resolution in the film’s final sequence. Is it taken to be beautiful, perhaps, or has she submitted her soul to the dance at the expense of those she loved? Whatever the answer, it’s also incredibly mystifying and I think that adds more to the dreamlike atmosphere created in Suspiria.
I imagine that a film like this isn’t going to draw in so many viewers who aren’t familiar with the source material – but at the same time those familiar would also be put off by how much would be so distinctly changed from what they’ve already grown so accustomed to. But Luca Guadagnino doesn’t submit himself to making a straightforward remake of Dario Argento’s film either. Yet like the original Suspiria, there’s a beautiful resonance that comes from just how everything is put together. Maybe it might be self-indulgent, or maybe it might be overlong. Yet this new Suspiria never felt like any of that to me. It feels like the manifestation of one’s own worst fears coming together through the most dazzling imagery, drawing you through the temptation that comes forward. But that’s something I absolutely love about the eroticism that can be felt in the cinema of Luca Guadagnino, it draws you into a world where you start feeling so overwhelmed even by smaller details in the background. For in Guadagnino’s films they don’t feel small, then the whole film just feels like something else entire. And it’s so wholly dazzling, I can’t resist it.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Amazon Studios.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Screenplay by David Kajganich, from the 1977 screenplay written by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolidi
Produced by Marco Morabito, Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Silvia Venturini Fendi, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, William Sherak, Gabriele Moratti
Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine LeBoutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Małgosia Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Running Time: 152 minutes