The original Suspiria is considered by many to be a horror classic. It has gained a large and loyal cult fanbase, ultimately leading to a new “remake” by filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name).
Don’t be fooled, though. This is less a direct remake and more a re-envisionment of the original. The film explores a famous dance company in Berlin as the artistic director, an ambitious new student, and a grieving psychotherapist are engulfed by darkness.
This movie had everything going for it on paper: beloved source material, a phenomenal cast, and a talented director at the helm. It should have been a masterpiece. What went wrong? The execution of the film wasn’t so bad — it was the writing that was such a let down.
For one, the movie was way too slow. It takes forever to actually get moving, and by the time it does, most of the audience will already be checked out of the film anyway. A big part of the issue is that it is a two-and-a-half hour long horror film. It is nearly impossible to maintain intensity for that long, and this movie fails at doing that.
The film also contains far too much expositional dialogue. The visual storytelling is beyond competent, so the inclusion of exposition is simply unnecessary. General audiences that wouldn’t understand the story without this exposition either won’t be drawn to see the movie or won’t like it regardless. This only serves to upset the art-house crowds who expect to be challenged by the film intellectually.
Additionally, the movie suffers from a lack of character development. Whereas the original was driven by the audience sympathizing with the dancers, this version doesn’t do that. There is some backstory given to the protagonist, Susie Bannion, but this only pushes the plot along, not the characterization. Furthermore, the other dancers are throwaway characters that are almost indistinguishable from one another.
The biggest question mark in this movie, though, is the character of Dr. Josef Klemperer. He does have some development, but it is largely ambiguous and forced. However, he is perhaps the only sympathetic character in the film, as he basically serves as the audience’s perspective. Making it even more interesting is that the character is played by Tilda Swinton… almost. The role is credited to “Lutz Ebersdorf”, but is actually Tilda Swinton under heavy makeups and prosthetics. Her commitment to the role is impressive.
Although the writing leaves something to be desired, it is definitely well-shot. The cinematography is quite surreal and hypnotic. The way in which some of the sequences are shot is what makes them actually disturbing, not necessarily what is happening within them. Guadagnino likes to play around with some of the conventions of filmmaking, and in this movie, he experiments with different frame rates, giving the film an even more dream-like (or nightmarish) quality.
Another success of this movie is its score. The original is famous for its metal-inspired score from Goblin, and although the score for the new one by Thom Yorke of Radiohead is very different, it still lives up to its predecessor in terms of being unorthodox for the genre. It is quite creepy and off-putting, effectively creating tension throughout the film.
Overall, Suspiria was a big disappointment. Although it is well-shot, it’s not very well-written. It’s two and a half hours, yet it feels even longer. The beginning has some intriguing aspects, but it was a relief when the credits rolled.
Suspiria is now playing in select theaters and expands November 2.