Directed By: Luca Guadagnino
Written By: David Kajganich
Dario Argento’s Suspiria is a film I fell in love with immediately. While it has a strong plot, what makes Argento’s film a masterpiece is the director’s unparalleled use of color and the amazing score by Goblin. When I heard that there was a remake in the works, I was stunned. I wasn’t mad (I don’t get mad about my favorite films being remade), I just could not imagine why anyone would want to. It seemed completely unnecessary and a quick path to career suicide for whoever was crazy enough to attempt it.
Turns out that insane person is Luca Guadagnino (the director behind last year’s Oscar nominated Call Me By Your Name). I learned after seeing the movie that Guadagnino purchased the rights to Suspiria in 2008 and originally tapped David Gordon Green to direct it. The story, as I heard it, is that Guadagnino wanted to direct it himself but he didn’t have the clout to get it done, so he went to David Gordon Green. Green wrote a script and they were pretty far along in the process when the plug got pulled. It’s notable mainly because Green co-wrote and directed Halloween, which is breaking box office records as I write this, and Guadagnino finally got his Suspiria into theaters at the same time.
Going into Suspiria I wasn’t sure what to expect. Coming out of Suspiria I can safely say that it was worth the ten year wait to get Guadagnino’s vision. This is not just the best horror movie of 2018, so far. It’s the best movie of 2018, so far. I was quite tired going into my screening and worried that I would fall asleep. I had heard that it’s a slow film and I knew the runtime was near three hours and I was going to a theater with big comfy recliner seats. I fully expected to nod off. Once the movie started I couldn’t have gone to sleep if I wanted to. I was totally sucked into the world that Guadagnino put in front of me. Yes, it’s two hours and thirty two minutes long, which is something I rail against on a nearly daily basis these days, but I don’t think that it is a slow movie. Rather I would say that it unfolds at a deliberate pace. The difference being that calling a movie slow indicates that it was boring, whereas calling it deliberate indicates that it slowly unfolds but you never lose interest. That maybe semantics to some but I believe that it’s an important distinction. There is nothing boring about Suspiria.
Speaking of semantics, this feels much more like a re-imagining than a remake. Guadagnino keeps the framework of the original film intact but tells the story in a distinct manner. He doesn’t follow the plot points laid out by Argento and so the movie feels like an original story in a lot of ways. This is helped along, no doubt, by the single greatest stroke of genius that Guadagnino brought to the project. How do you recreate Argento’s brilliant use of color? You don’t and Guadagnino was smart enough to know that. Instead of using the vibrant colors that Argento set his original against, Guadagnino went the other way and chose to use a palette of muted colors. It’s an immediate signal that this is wholly his film. The second brilliant move by Guadagnino was not trying to match the score from Goblin. Instead, he again went the polar opposite direction and had an original score done by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. It’s beautiful music and compliments the film perfectly while in no way calling to mind the original’s score. By dismissing the two most memorable elements of the original film, the filmmakers let you know right away that this isn’t just another rehash of the same old thing.
It’s impossible for me to recap the story of Suspiria here. The film doesn’t so much tell you the story as it guides you along the way, leaving plenty open to interpretation. That’s not to say that it’s confusing, Guadagnino just doesn’t seem interested in spoon feeding the story to the audience. It’s also one of the things that makes this film great. There are scenes and details that don’t leave you easily, causing you to think about them and draw your own conclusions. All of the major developments are clear enough though, so if you don’t want to think about a movie after you walk out of the theater you’re not going to be forced to.
The cast is terrific. Dakota Johnson is absolutely mesmerizing. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of her whenever she is on-screen. She is able to convey a sense of innocence while also letting you know that she knows more than you think she does. I haven’t seen much of her work but this is a career making performance in my opinion. Much was made of Tilda Swinton playing two roles in the film before it’s release. As it turns out, she actually plays three. If I have one knock on this movie this is it. She is great, maybe as good as she has ever been, as Madame Blanc and that should have been enough. There is no reason for her to be playing the old man. It’s distracting, just as distracting as you imagine watching Tilda Swinton pretending to be an old man would be. The makeup looks slightly off and doesn’t hide her identity very well, maybe if it had been better it wouldn’t have been as distracting. It still would not have been necessary though. This is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t understand the need for big name actors to play multiple roles in a film. Swinton is fine in the third role that she plays and the makeup is insane so you can’t really tell it’s her but the fact remains that two roles which could have gone to capable actors were given to Swinton for nothing more than a stunt. Surely there is an elderly actor out there who could have done a good job as the doctor in this film and not been distracting. Again, she’s fine in the third role but there are actors who make their living playing characters just like this one. What’s the point of taking a job away from one of them?
Despite an article that has been making the rounds, I believe that 2018 has been a strong year for horror. Suspiria stands out as the crown jewel of the year, so far. It’s not a film that will appeal to everyone bur it is a film that should be seen by everyone.