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John’s Horror Corner: Suspiria (2018), a stylish yet retro-chic remake of Argento’s Italian classic about a witch coven nested in a German ballet academy.

February 2, 2019

MY CALL: Like its predecessor, it’s clearly style over substance in this high-intrigue yet slow(ish)-paced atmospheric masterpiece—but still much more “substantial” than the 1977 original in terms of execution and resolution. Even if film is art, this felt more like art than film at times—emotionally heavy art. I loved it, but it takes its toll on viewers. MOVIES LIKE Suspiria: Well, there’s the original Suspiria (1977) and perhaps Black Swan (2010). Those who seek out emotionally challenging film may attempt Antichrist (2009) as well, along with A Cure for Wellness (2016).

Of particular interest is that this remake takes place in the year of the original (1977). However, it deviates considerably from its source material as it opens with a young Patricia’s (Chloë Grace Moretz; Carrie, Let Me In, The Eye) paranoid ranting of witches to a concerned psychiatrist. And while in no universe could one compare the score to the stylishly dark approach of Goblin (1977), we are whisked away in lovely yet hauntingly effective scoring as we tour dismal German farmlands and countrysides. The likewise thoughtful (and dismal) shots of European cityscapes remind me of the depressing beauty of Possession (1981). In just five minutes, I’m pretty sure I love this film.

On a grey, rainy day we meet Susie (Dakota Johnson; Fifty Shades of Grey) who impresses, and Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton; Snowpiercer, Constantine, Only Lovers Left Alive) who calmly but strongly fixates. With her acceptance to the company, Susie rooms with Sara (Mia Goth; A Cure for Wellness). As Susie deepens her stride and rank into the company, Sara wades deeper into its dark mysteries at the expense of her sanity and her soul…

REMAKE/REIMAGINING SIDEBAR: For more horror remakes, I favor the following: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982; yes, this was a remake), The Fly (1986), The Mummy (1999; adventure genre), The Ring (2002), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009), Let Me In (2010), Evil Dead (2013), Carrie (2013), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) and It (2017). Those to avoid include Poltergeist (2015), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017; total adventure-style reboot-imagining). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007), My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Fright Night (2011), which are bad or so-so remakes (in my opinion) but decently entertaining movies.

It’s only appropriate that this classic Italian horror film be remade by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, despite his lack of horror experience. Guadagnino employs camera angles and zoom analogous to Argento’s powerfully atmospheric lighting. Quite the opposite of Argento’s style, Guadagnino’s softened lighting and color palate afford a grey dated (i.e., 70s) haze to the film. This film is so infused with style (a style all its own), and the dancing only fuels this by evoking intensity. The dance choreography at times feels as if a Grudge ghost was conferred grace—some of the movements are otherworldly, even possessed.

The performances are understated, but oh so strong. Swinton (playing multiple roles) is haunting, menacing, protective and powerful. Johnson, an actress who I formerly despised (for the Fifty Shades films), now leaves me forgiving and quite sincerely impressed. And, at times, it’s Mia Goth who steals the show during her death spiral into the depths of the coven.

The first death scene is a truly joint-rending, torso-twisting and bone-crunchingly brutal spectacle to behold as it is mirrored by graceful dance while jerkily contorting someone to death. We then have a slow lull for at least an hour before the horror imagery resumes. Early use of nudity is quite macabre, accompanied by stump-dragging amputee ghouls and sunken husks of human bodies. Among the shocks we endure a wicked bone-protruding leg break.

There are numerous long sequences cultivating heavy atmosphere and emotional intensity to such degree that this film is actually exhausting—although not quite to the extent of Antichrist (2009). At 150 minutes of high-intrigue, slowburn filmmaking, our emotions are drained leaving us completely vulnerable when we succumb to the nudity-rich finale ritual complete with almost theatrical intestine-spooling vivisection, concerted coven chanting and hypnotic limb-swaying dancing like a school of beguiling sirens. But the creature effects of Mother Markos are worth the wait; she’s a mutant festering sight to behold; an admixture of the most dire traits of Jabba the Hut, radioactive mutation and a Cenobite. Although, I would have favored substance over style in the case of the red-filtered strobe light finale which I felt—despite its artistic contribution—obscured Guadagnino’s visualized execution of death scenes, gore, acolytes of evil and mass murder.

I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of this film… but I’m also not sure what I expected. I was certainly more pleased with the ending (and all aspects of this film, really) over the original Suspiria (1977). The final deaths felt significant and dire, and I had more closure as to the whats and whys of the story. I guess, in closing, I’d both warn and encourage potential viewers of this highly challenging film.

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