Saturday, 24 November 2018



So it's here. The first official, credited and acknowledged remake of a Dario Argento masterpiece is finally with us after years on the Maybe pile. And whatever else Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria might be (and at a stonking hundred and fifty two minutes it's lots of other things), it's definitely not Argento. If you want the bright lights, pretty colours, wild music and full-on horror craziness then stick with the 1977 film because you're not going to get any of that stuff here. (Quite rightly: why should Guadagnino simply repeat Gus Van Sant's Psycho experiment?) Instead it's deliberately muted for the most part, with a colder colour scheme and frequent trips into other, apparently less relevant territory.

The basic thrust of the original film is there: in 1977, young student Suzy (Dakota Johnson) turns up at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, which is actually a front for a coven of ancient witches who are planning Something Horrible. She catches the eye of legendary dancer and choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and almost immediately wins the key role in her most famous contemporary ballet production. One of the other dancers (Chloe Grace Moretz) confides her fears in her elderly therapist Klemperer: when the girl disappears, he seeks to investigate, although she may be involved in terrorist activities (this is around the time of Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction)...

I'm sure there's a reason why Tilda Swinton is also playing octogenarian Klemperer (under the name Lutz Ebersdorf) and Madame Markos, the coven's bloated leader, both under a ton of prosthetics to the point where she is completely unrecognisable. I could have shared a Turkish bath with both of them (somehow) and never realised either of them was Tilda Swinton. I'm sure there's also a reason why they explored Klemperer's background at such length, including the loss of his wife in the German camps. (She's played as a possible fantasy figure, figment of the imagination and/or witch-implanted hallucination by Jessica Harper, Suzy in Argento's original.) But I don't know what those reasons are, beyond having some fun with the acting and focusing down on a peripheral character who isn't even in the 1977 film, probably because Luca Guadagnino is closer to an arthouse director than a horror movie director. This isn't a bad thing, obviously: I'm still hoping for the Marvel and DC universes to hire wild card choices like Peter Greenaway or Lars Von Trier, to stretch them as well as the genre a little.

As a horror movie, though, Suspiria 2018 works well, with a couple of agreeably nasty set-piece sequences, a blood-soaked climax and that old favourite, the bone-sticking-through-the-broken-leg routine. The death of Olga in a mirrored rehearsal room is the undoubted horror highpoint of the movie and, if I bothered to rank such things (which I don't, because that would be insane), would be very high on the list of Kills Of The Year, Top Three easily. But the horror component of Suspiria does feel diluted by the additional material: somewhere inside this 152-minute curiosity is a terrific 100-minute shocker that can't get out.

None of which is to say that it's a bad film or even a so-so one. There's more than enough going on and it's all interesting, and I was never bored or counting the minutes. It's simply that personally I'd have liked either a full-on Suspiria remake or a wholly non-Suspiria film devoted to all the other stuff, and for me shuffling them together into the same film diffuses and defuses both of them. It's a shame that it's disappeared off the circuits so quickly as I think this is one of those films that does merit repeat viewings, and even though they're mentioned I'm not sure that Maters Tenebrarum and Lachrymarum will get their standalone outings. Which would be a pity.


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