‘Suspiria’ the Perfect Example of Remakes Done Right (FILM REVIEW)

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With Suspiria, director Luca Guadagnino, fresh off last year’s acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, hasn’t just remade Dario Argento’s mind bending horror classic, he’s remade the concept of remakes. Whether you love or hate it is strictly immaterial—though you can almost feel the audience being ripped into two distinct camps as the movie is happening—because either way you cannot deny Guadagnino’s bold, fearless take on the story, the horror genre, and the very idea of what a remake can and should be.

Divisive though it’s bound to be, Guadagnino appears to relish in the complexity and audacity of tackling one of the most important stories of horror cinema, putting his own stamp on it in the process. Both he and screenwriter David Kajganich (The Terror) have taken Argento’s tale of ballet and witchcraft and created something completely new from its familiar bones. Though typically comparisons between the remake and the original are fair and valid, in this case it feels wrong.

This is two masters painting the same scene or two conductors leading the same symphony. As similar as they might be to one another, Argento and Guadagnino both find different aspects to highlight to create experiences entirely unique from one another. Regardless how you feel about Argento’s classic, Guadagnino’s Suspiria deserves to be seen and judged as a separate entity, and on its own merits.

Admittedly that’s something of a tall order. Argento’s film left an indelible mark on the psyche of horror and its influence can be felt today, 40 years after the fact. It ushered in a new level of artistry to the genre and its themes were explored in rich, visceral ways that changed how we conceive of arthouse horror. It would be impossible for anyone, even a director like Guadagnino, to match the original on its terms, and so he doesn’t even try.

The basic elements remain the same. A young, American dancer, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), travels to Berlin in the hopes of joining a renowned ballet company led by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Slowly Bannion learns that the studio is run by a sinister coven of witches, who use their students and the art of dance itself to weave harrowing magic, and they have a special interest in her.

For all the bizarreness of the Argento film, it’s still a relatively straightforward tale of intrigue and horror. Guadagnino takes an almost exact opposite approach. It bears all the appearances of straightforwardness while hiding its more bizarre underbelly. Cinematically, Guadagnino’s Suspiria looks and feels more like a drama than a horror, which makes the moments of terror he occasionally punctuates his narrative with all the more harrowing and off putting.

He also plays with richer themes, using Suspiria to explore in fuller detail Cold War era Berlin and post-war trauma of Europe’s citizens. The reality of post-holocaust and World War II life is plumbed at some depth here, most notably via the character of Dr. Josef Klemper (also Swinton), whose student Patricia (Chloe Grace-Moretz) goes missing from the academy.

The juxtaposition of real life horror and mythological horror creates a fascinating contrast which allows Guadagnino to further explore how trauma affects us and the decisions we make in our lives afterwards. Largely taking place within the subtext of the narrative, however, means that many audiences will be turned off by the density of Suspiria, which is definitely playing a long game with its story. I won’t reveal the directions the film takes, but even compared to the Argento version there are some shocking moments throughout the film.

Though lacking the distinctive color palette of the original film, Suspiria is still a technical marvel to behold. The cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who also filmed Call Me By Your Name) is captivating and complex, especially during the film’s dance numbers—of which there simply aren’t enough, which is the only time I’ve ever thought that watching a film about dance. His movements are graceful and elegant, becoming a dance almost unto themselves. He and Guadagnino draw you into the world with an exacting precision that is increasingly captivating as the film goes on. By the time we get to the insane climax, you are fully immersed and 100% rapt.

Unless, of course, you’re not. As I said earlier, this is going to be a divisive film—arguably the most divisive since mother! last year. About half of those who see this film are going to walk away from Suspiria confused by what half the audience saw in the film they just watched, and the half that loved it will be confused by what the half that didn’t are talking about. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell what camp you’re going to fall in without first seeing it.

Either way, the experience of Suspiria is one I have to recommend. Even if you end up hating it, the journey to that hate is one that can only be taken via the medium of cinema and that’s ultimately an okay destination to reach. I don’t get the feeling that Guadagnino particularly cares if you love or hate his film, so long as you have some kind of emotion about it. Hate, in this regard, is almost as good as love. It is, if nothing else, one of the purest distillations of cinema to hit the screens in a long time, and its divisiveness will be the fruits of its labor.

Suspiria is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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