After the sublime Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino could probably have made pretty much any film he wanted to. For some reason, he’s landed on a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo masterpiece, Suspiria. This is starting to feel like a trend. After Steve McQueen’s recent reinterpretation of Lynda La Plante’s Widows, I wonder what we can expect next? Guillermo Del Toro’s On the Buses, perhaps?
I’ll admit that I’ve long had a soft spot for the original Suspiria. I first saw it at a University film society in the early 1980s. (I wasn’t even a student there, but they had the full uncensored cut, so naturally I inveigled my way in!) I had, I suppose, been expecting just another slice n’ dicer and was quite blown away by what I saw on the screen. To me, it was an almost overwhelming onslaught of vibrant colour, copious bloodshed and histrionic terror, quite unlike any other horror movie I’d ever seen. One thing it most certainly wasn’t was pretentious. Sadly, I can’t say the same about this film, which is long and rambling and only occasionally fizzes into enough life to fully command my attention. It feels as though it’s a long-cherished dream project for Guadagnino, and the problem with such an undertaking is that, while the director knows exactly what he’s trying to say at any given moment, the audience is not always quite so lucky.
The story is broken up into six acts, and is set in a divided Germany in 1977, where the news is all about the the Baader-Meinhoff separatists and their exploits in Entebbe. Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), a student at a prestigious dance academy in West Berlin, comes seeking the help of elderly (and suspiciously latex-faced) psychiatrist Dr Joseph Klemperer, before running off into the night, leaving her journal for Klemperer to read. We then meet Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who duly arrives at the self-same dance academy, eagerly looking to enrol. At her audition, she manages to catch the eye of influential dance tutor, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), but not everything here is as it appears…
While Guadagnino certainly doesn’t stint on the bloodletting and the nudity, he does attempt to intellectualise what was once a very straightforward tale of witchcraft and demonic possession, pulling in strands of other – seemingly disparate – stories, with the result that they feel clumsily crowbarred into the proceedings. There’s the aforementioned Red Army Faction, and also Dr Klemperer’s tragic history during the Second World War, which, if nothing else, gives Suspiria’s original star, Jessica Harper, a brief cameo. And sadly, the only dancing in evidence seems to consist of people writhing around on the floor without recourse to any music.
Of course, this being a Luca Guadagnino film, it’s not a total loss – there’s a decent sense of foreboding throughout and some truly jarring bits of body horror – but with a punishing running time of two hours and thirty two minutes, this one is only for the hardiest viewers and those, like me, who can’t resist seeing how a brilliant original has been reinterpreted.
I have to say, my major feeling here is one of profound disappointment.