“Suspiria,” directed by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) and a remake of the 1977 cult classic of the same name, revolves around Markos Dance Academy’s newest student, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, “Bad Times at the El Royale”). Meanwhile, a student named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz, “Carrie”) flees the school under the conviction that it is the home to a coven of witches.
While the narrative is unfortunately bogged down by a glut of story threads that do not come together cohesively, the movie provides more than enough ominous mysticism and excruciating gore for horror fans.
The deeply twisted story takes place in six acts and an epilogue, and this level of compartmentalization allows Guadagnino to build a brooding, queasy tone for the first few segments. Much of the film relies on the anticipation of a grand brutal payoff. When these payoffs arrive, often in the form of dance rituals, they are both unfathomably graphic and too stunning to look away from.
The violence is surely not for everyone, but such sequences demonstrate Guadagnino’s powerful control over his craft and are confidently some of the most frightening of the year. One particular scene involving a training room with mirrored walls creates some cutting imagery of dancer’s anatomy that is hard to forget. When these moments occur, they resonate so viscerally, they do not quite leave one’s mind for the rest of the movie, or even after the credits roll. That being said, what “Suspiria” lacks is appropriate pacing. The slow burn of the film leaves far too much empty time between moments of intensity to get a sense of narrative momentum.
The reason for this lack of momentum is the same reason the film’s runtime is two hours and 32 minutes, almost an hour longer than the original. Guadagnino, for all his horror skills, can’t help but shoehorn into the story a subplot about Jozef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), an elderly psychotherapist searching for his patient. This, combined with frequent radio chatter about the various bombings in West Germany during 1977, weigh down the story and confound its sense of identity.
To be clear, these additions to the main plot were not nonsensical. They had clear roles in detailing the chaotic turmoil of the city around the academy. However, they ultimately proved unnecessary to the film’s garishly unhinged finale. For most of the runtime, Guadagnino wanted to tell a story that was almost too sweeping and expansive to digest. But the ending of “Suspiria” works as flawlessly as it does because of its simplicity. The sixth act does not so much convey a sharp message as it does an intense wave of emotion. But the film’s political backdrop, suffused with complex parables, was a misstep.
Despite the tendency of the film to drag rather than remain unrelentingly tense, it’s an indelibly unsettling experience that fits comfortably among the best horror films of 2018. The new directions that Guadagnino decided to take this film may not have all been successful, but they are certainly admirable. Any modern rendition of a revered film like Dario Argento’s original “Suspiria” has far too much to live up to. Instead of flailing under such pressure, Guadagnino resists the urge to copy the original and his intentions shown through in both substance and style.
In contrast to Argento’s nightmarish color scheme, Guadagnino’s set designs are pastel hues at their brightest. These shades contrast starkly with the stabbing blues of the autumn sky, and unpredictable cutting between shadowy indoors and the outside can force a viewer’s eyes to constantly adjust without ever truly stabilizing. Another tonal difference between the two is their scores. While Italian progressive rock band Goblin composed an abrasive, metallic soundtrack for the original, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke tailors a slower, more ambient sonic texture for the new version. Yorke’s score, though certainly ambitious, works better in some places than others. In one long take surveying the matrons of the Markos Academy, his echoey buzzing and swingy drums sounded far too reminiscent of Radiohead and felt tonally inconsistent with the rest of the movie. However, the track “Unmade” elevates a scene to jaw-dropping effect.
If you enjoy horror movies, don’t miss this one. “Suspiria” is a mostly worthy remake and a paralyzingly immersive journey. Buy your ticket and brace yourself.