A pretentious bore posing as high art, Suspiria is a stuffy dance horror melodrama that manages to make a murderous coven of ballet witches boring as sin. At two-and-a-half grueling hours, the film from Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) is the most masturbatory of remakes, one that painfully tacks a superfluous hour of runtime onto the original without any added content. By the time Suspiria finally reaches its blood-soaked conclusion, I stood at such an emotional distance, with a countenance of such bored apathy, as to not even enjoy its macabre platter of dark ritual and liberal gore.
This is not a remake in the true sense of the word. Rather – it’s a cheap reflection, a tangential splinter that doesn’t hold a candle to Argento’s original vision. His 1977 feature served as a provocative example of the power of united femininity. A psychedelic blur of sound and sight, Suspiria is not unlike this 2018 offering in the plainest of senses but Argento’s bold, haunting visage of obsession and sacrifice is poetic in ways Guadagnino tragically misinterprets.
Replacing Jessica Harper, Dakota Johnson of 50 Shades of Grey fame is Susie Bannion, a preternaturally talented dancer whose dreams of escaping to Berlin are realized when she uproots from her strict Mormon upbringing. Accepted into the prestigious Helena Markos Dance Co., Susie comes under the tutelage of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), an acclaimed dancer, and befriends Sara (Mia Goth), a fellow American in the troupe. As dancers disappear or suffer injury, suspicions arise that witchcraft is at play.
Suspense runs in short supply, as does energy. As written by David Kajganich, Suspiria remains a meandering and aimless slog despite volcanic eruptions of sudden brutality – a violent flurry of bad dreams; a bone-breaking dance sequence; a choreographed blood orgy; deformed, distorted creatures braying in agony. These stark tableaus offer some semblance of lurid watchability but are buried beneath so much snobbish preamble as to be but a needle in the proverbial haystack. Carved into six acts and an epilogue, Suspiria hobbles.
In the absence of substance is the mirage of art, and Guadagnino’s nightmarish creation can admittedly be stylistically tantalizing when it is not simply snooze-inducing. The intrigue is set against the backdrop of 1977’s Iran hostage situation for some unknowable reason; another attempt to fake depth; a facsimile of political undercurrents. So too does Guadagnino use the framing device of an elderly German psychiatrist (also played by Swinton, under heavy prosthetics) who survived the Holocaust and his guilt over losing his wife to somehow tie another unrelated historical element into this banal retelling.
Despite this laundry list of shortcomings, there are some truly great aspects baked into Suspriria circa 2018. Thom Yorke’s musical accompaniment is a noted departure from Goblin’s breathy, xylophone-driven 1977 score but strong in its own right; the performances from Johnson, Swinton and Goth, an admirable triplet of intrigue and female esprit de corps; and thanks to Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography, Giulia Piersanti’s luscious costume design, and Merlin Ortner and Monica Sallustio’s unnerving art direction, there’s atmosphere to spare. What a pity it’s all wasted on such contrived, faux-elevated art world boorishness.
CONCLUSION: Daring to make an American remake even less accessible to mainstream audiences, Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ is a tedious, overreaching chore.