Review: 'Suspiria' Channels High Brow Art Horror
This review was originally published for UW Film Club and has since been republished here with the author’s permission.
The original Suspiria by Dario Argento is a cult classic. Since its original run in the 70s, the film has grown into a sensation of praise, being cited as the one of the definitive giallo films to inspire the American slasher and a horror favorite of both John Carpenter and Edgar Wright. Even with all its praise, it is still very cult-y in many regards. It’s narrative isn’t all that cohesive, the acting is sometimes laughable, and the logic leaves much to be desired. So with plenty of headroom to improve, a remake wouldn’t seem all that unreasonable in 2018.
In steps Luca Guadagnino. After the success of Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino set his sights on remaking Suspiria with a new vision in mind. Gone is the bright technicolor saturation of the original and in are muted red, brown, and blue pastels. Gone are the infamous maggot, dog, and barb-wire scenes and in are horrifying dance sequences. Gone is the pulpy nature of the original and in are the heavily artistic sensibilities of Guadagnino. The result is a remake which improves on the original by intentionally avoiding what made the original so well liked. Instead, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is a wonderful retelling of a cult classic that channels high brow art to create an intellectually challenging, but equally frightening horror film.
Like the original, Suspiria follows Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as she travels to Berlin with the hopes of joining the famous Helena Markos Dance Company. After being recruited by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), Susie quickly climbs the ranks and becomes the lead in their premiere performance, but with it, strange occurrences begin to occur as students disappear, become ill, or wind up dead. With so many anomalies, students begin to suspect that something other than dance is taking place within the walls of the academy.
Like Call Me By Your Name before it, Luca Guadagnino has imbued Suspiria with plenty of art house sensibilities. The film is considerably more eloquent than the original and firmly sides with sophisticated art rather than the cult origins of its source material. Earlier this year, fellow writer Jamie Housen wrote how Call Me By Your Name used similar creative decisions to give itself an artistic feel; as he put it, the decisions made in that film may “isolate many audience members,” and for better or worse, the same notion is true here.
So much of this film has symbolic meaning, hidden subtext, and ulterior motives that will have you asking yourself, “What did I just watch?” (especially when the final act kicks in), but to the film’s credit, that’s what makes it so good. It’s not clear cut like most horror films and it doesn’t concede to traditional horror tropes. In fact, it feels more like an art house film rather than a horror film. Instead of emphasizing as many scares as possible, the film finds ways to build up to them. Rhythmic editing, irregular patterns, graphic matches, and so on all amass to a pervading sense of unease that lingers over the film; it could very well be a textbook study in most cinema classes with regards to its techniques and how it creates unsettling undertones in fairly unsuspecting scenes.
It’s masterful work, but it won’t be for everyone. Few scenes embody gore and violence like you find in other horror flicks, but those that do make up a marginal part of the run time. Clocking in at 2 hours 32 minutes, the film certainly takes its time to reach those moments. Only three major scenes will make audiences wince with terror and the rest is methodical plotting. For this film to work, you need to buy into the smaller moments so the larger ones have a greater impact on you, and unfortunately, I don’t foresee general audiences willing to do so. If the Cinemascore for Hereditary or It Comes At Night — two films which are without a doubt a part of the best horror films of the decade—are any indication, Suspiria will undeservedly be dismissed by most as a pretentious art piece with little merit. However, to do so would be woefully naive. Under the surface and within its own technical construction, Suspiria is a horror film that is as impressive as it is sinister.