Every time a new Horror remake is announced, there is the inevitable groan from the internet and lamentation over the days when the genre had original ideas. In fairness, some of those complaints are legitimate, but for every vapid and unnecessary remake there is one that can stand on its own and live up to its predecessor. Luca Guadagnino’s (The Protagonists 1999, Call Me by Your Name 2017) Suspiria is one of those, and while it may be a bit much in length, it delivers a Horror experience worthy of its name.
Brought to theaters through Amazon Studios in New York as well as Los Angeles on October 26th, and expanded to more theaters as of November 2nd, the story of the new Suspiria at first mirrors the original film, released in 1977 by legendary Director Dario Argento. An American dancer named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson: Fifty Shades film series, Black Mass 2015) is admitted to the prestigious Markos Dance Academy in West Berlin, where the students and administration are in the midst of dealing with the disappearance of a student named Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz: Kick Ass 2010, Dark Shadows 2012). Patricia told her psychiatrist that the academy is run by a coven of witches, and was visibly shaken and unhinged when last seen.
Susie quickly catches the eye of head instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton: Vanilla Sky 2001, Doctor Strange 2016) and becomes her prized student. However, things get strange soon after as another student has an outburst during a rehearsal and also calls the academy matrons witches and storms out. It doesn’t take a detective to know there will be dire consequences for that young lady. There is a bit of resentment among the students because of Blanc taking a special liking to the newcomer, but Susie befriends fellow student Sara (Mia Goth: Nymphomaniac 2013, The Survivalist 2015) and becomes her closest ally in the dangers ahead. Susie and Sara both discover that Patricia’s delusions were true, and the coven will do anything to protect their secret.
The other main plot focuses on the psychiatrist who Patricia went to, Dr. Josef Klemperer. He is an old man who decades ago lost his wife in the chaos of WWII Germany, and although he believed Patricia was delusional at first, decides to follow up on her wild claims after she disappears. Klemperer still harbors deep sadness and regret over his wife, but is relentless in his pursuit of the truth of Patricia’s disappearance, perhaps as a way to atone for not being able to find the truth about his wife.
While the Klemperer’s plot pays off eventually, it does feel a bit out of place for a good while. At the academy, we have Susie and Sara, the strange and downright evil witchery, and the coven choosing who will lead them until their next election. When the Klemperer plot comes back, it takes the audience out of that and into his mundane travels and studies until the two plot-lines intersect, but that is at least halfway through a lengthy film.
Additionally, the events of the film take place during the infamous German Autumn, a series of politically motivated terrorist activities and responses in Germany during 1977. Peppered throughout the film are newscasts on said events such as kidnappings, hijackings, and extrajudicial killings, but it never feels homogeneous with everything else. There is a strong theme of identity in the story, and the German Autumn was a struggle for German identity post WWII, but the backdrop of the real events against those of the film feels clunky at best.
All that said, Suspiria has a lot going for it. The cinematography is excellent; although the colors are darker than in Argento’s masterpiece, the camera work and techniques will remind audiences of the ’70s Giallo films and do not feel like cheap mimicry. The film is a slow burn but is downright scary when it wants to be. The ending sequence is going to be remembered for a long time to come and is one of the more shocking in recent memory.
The performances are all great. Johnson may not be taken seriously by some because of the baggage that comes with the widely panned Fifty Shades movies, but her performance here is excellent and should be her defining role going forward. Tilda Swinton is amazing as well, pulling gender-bending triple duty as Blanc, Markos, and Dr. Klemperer. She is outstanding in just about everything she does and her talent really elevates the movie. Supporting actors Goth and Moretz, as well as the matrons of the academy are all solid and believable – there isn’t a weak link among any of these ladies.
Although the film is a bit too long at 2 ½ hours, Suspiria was wise to not mirror the original film and take a different direction with the characters and add new elements. Some of that does not fit as well as the filmmakers hoped, but the movie delivers what fans would want – a hallucinatory and terrifying descent into blackest of witchcraft and a Horror experience worth your time. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives 2018’s Suspiria 4 out of 5 stars.