I had been saving Dario Argento’s Suspiria for a special occasion, and that turned out to be the release of Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake. I watched the two films back-to-back: the 4K restored original at home and the remake at a packed CinemaCity Picturehouse preview screening. The film is officially released in UK cinemas today.
The 1977 film was exactly what I expected, and I loved it. The vivid colour palette, especially the reds, and the striking use of lighting blew me away. The film’s score was a bonkers combination of synthesizers, greek and indian drums which will etch itself in my memory in exactly the same way that Cannibal Holocaust’s did. Some of it was ludicrously over-the-top, but it is a 70s Italian horror film after all.
Jessica Harper was utterly convincing as Suzy Bannion — an American dancer going to study ballet in a German school where some gruesome murders have just been carried out. The film starts at a breakneck pace and does not relent all the way to the final reveal. The dialogue and special effects aren’t perfect, but the atmosphere and the scene-setting is as close as could be. I was left panting by the end.
The film’s twin stars of sound and colour complement each other perfectly, bringing a simple but highly effective hallucinatory quality to much of the film. The intensity always flirts with your limits, without ever crossing them. The result is a film which I enjoyed both casually and from a more artistic perspective, and one which I’m already itching to watch again.
I thought the remake was just a bit bland, aside from Tilda Swinton’s great performances (her main one, the secret one, and the even-more-secret one) and some fantastic synchronous contortions in the numerous dance scenes. The director, Luca Guadagnino states that rather than a remake, it is a homage to a film he first watched as a boy. He wanted to pay tribute:
“To the incredible, powerful emotion I felt when I saw it”
Whilst impressive that he has sculpted his own original take on the 1977 screenplay, and it is a very different film, I didn’t feel the movie really was a simulacrum of the sentiments he describes. Suspiria (2018) just didn’t convince me in the same way that the original did, despite a morereal-world aesthetic.
Everything is dulled down — the pace of the film, the colour palette, the soundtrack and the suspense. There were some dream sequences which were laboured and unconvincing. And for a film made in 2018, some of the CGI was worse than some of the cheesy grotesqueries of the original. This made a potentially nauseating early flourish of disfigurement not as realistic as it could have been, although a later fracture did get the cinema audience wincing.
There are hints of some interesting themes, though. In particular, post-war guilt is treated in an interesting way which drew my attention throughout the film. There were also some nice metaphors about aspects of the human psyche. Maybe they were intended to be subtle, but I was just wishing for more of them.
The plot of the original is changed quite drastically, which isn’t a negative point per se. It was just frustrating that the original’s reveal was given away early in the first few minutes of the remake, and I felt this impacted on the movie’s suspense factor. Still, there were a couple of odd mysteries and surprises which almost made up for this…
It’s not a bad film, the dance choreography is bewitching at times, it just isn’t memorable enough compared to the original.
Suspiria (1977): ****½
Suspiria (2018): **½