Plot: What’s it about?
Early in 2018, Synapse Films did the world a tremendous favor and released their 4K remastered edition of Dario Argento’s seminal horror film Suspiria. It was one of my favorite releases of the year. Suspiria is one of my favorite horror films of all time and one of the films I had wanted on Blu-ray since the format came into existence. Suspiria remains a work of art – a film that has stayed as vibrantly beautiful and strange since its release over forty years ago.
When I heard that the film was being remade I was honestly puzzled. Why would anybody want to put a new spin on Suspiria? Why would somebody want to repaint the Mona Lisa? Basically, at first the news of the remake just made me feel ambivalence. Then I noticed that the film was being directed by acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino who had recently earned accolades for his film Call Me By Your Name. More importantly, the film had a soundtrack by Thom Yorke of the band Radiohead. This grabbed my attention because Radiohead has been my favorite band for roughly twenty years. The other day I was at Best Buy and I decided to take a gamble and purchase a copy of the film so that I could form my own judgements. I went into the film trying to put out my own affection for the previous film so I could try to judge the new film on its own terms.
The film takes place in 1977 in a divided Berlin and is divided into six acts and an epilogue. As the film begins, Patricia (Chloë Grace-Moretz) arrives at Dr. Klemperer’s office. She says some confusing things regarding a coven of witches and gives the doctor her book that lays out all of her suspicions. The plot of the film revolves around ballerina Suzie Bannion (Dakota Johnson.) As the credits roll, the film shows us Susie’s mother in the heartland of America passing away from an illness. Afterwards, Susie arrives in Berlin and auditions for a prestigious dance company run by the enigmatic dance teacher Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton.) Suzy is accepted to the dance company due to the new opening at the studio. Madame Blanc lets the students know that she fears that Patricia has left the studio to join a revolutionary group and has gone underground. Suzie quickly takes the lead role in the demanding dance routine for which the company is best known. Another student of the academy named Olga becomes enraged and leaves the academy screaming “Witches!” while exiting. In a graphic scene, witchcraft bends Olga into an ungodly form. The coven of witches that run the school pick her up with hooks and cart her away. While staying at the dance academy, Susie begins to feel strange sensations at the school and is puzzled by what is causing them.
There are good things and bad things about this remake. Luca Guadagnino obviously tried to put his very best foot forward on this project and numerous scenes in the film are stunning. The first forty five minutes of the film are pretty hypnotic and work stylistically. The film does not use the beautiful bright colors the original film is known for. The film employs a gray or brown palette instead. The result is that the film looks far more grim and unsettling than the original. While I prefer the original’s use of color, the stylistic choices in the film are well-chosen even if much less appealing to me. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom did an excellent job on the framing of the film and should receive praise for the work he put into the film. The sound design of the film deserves a lot of praise as well. When you see the dance scenes in the film – sound design, cinematography, and choreography come together and it is truly remarkable. These scenes are very strong and worthy of mentioning thanks to the fantastic choreography of Damien Jalet.
The music composed for the film by Thom Yorke is my favorite aspect of the movie. The tracks “Suspirium” and “Has Ended” are both incredible songs. I feel like Thom Yorke got shafted by excluding his song “Suspirium” from the Academy Awards, and his compositions for the film are really strong. Like Jonny Greenwood who composed on There Will Be Blood and The Master, Thom understands that restraint gives scenes a certain quality. I have been listening to the soundtrack in my car all week.
Here are the bad things about the remake. First and foremost, the film has no air of mystery to it. The witches are shown planning early in the film. None of these early scenes of them planning are necessary to the structure of the film and the original film’s structure just worked better. The changes made to the second half of the film are interesting, but once again, the first film was better. The second half of the film basically abandons the idea of remaking 3. Whether this works or not will depend on the viewer, but I will say prepare yourself for some real insanity in the second half. It gets absolutely bonkers and will probably alienate a lot of the people who walk into the film with no idea how bizarre it will become. The bloodshed in the second half will probably be too much for a regular filmgoer.
The other issue comes down to this: the original was 98 tightly scripted and filmed minutes – the new film is 152 minutes long. Why was it necessary to add so much length to the film? This works against the urgency of the film. Honestly, I feel like many viewers are going to give up on the film before it gets to the finale – and some will give up on the film during the finale because it goes berserk. As you can imagine, these issues make the film really hard to recommend.
On the acting side – Tilda Swinton is great in the movie. Why was she cast as Madame Blanc and Dr. Klemperer? I have no earthly idea. I found it distracting for the course of the film despite Swinton’s strong performance in both roles. Dakota Johnson is good in some scenes and seems aloof in some others. During the dance choreography I thought she did a damn fine job. Mia Goth is pretty good in the film as Susie’s friend, Sara.
This remake was treated pretty harshly by the critics upon its release. I found this a little unusual given how well-made the film is in many ways. Whether or not this film is your cup of tea is going to be up to you as the viewer. For myself, I found the film to be frustrating but I also liked elements of it. The score by Thom Yorke is just plain great. This is one of those movies that will probably be reassessed in a few years as a mischaracterized masterpiece, but for right now it is simply an interesting but unnecessary remake to one of the greatest movies of all time. Judged out of context and out of the shadow of that film, I am curious what people would think.
Video: How’s it look?
Lionsgate have provided an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer of the film in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is very effective and at times very hypnotic. The film revels in grey and brown shades, so don’t expect the vibrant colors of the original film. This transfer looks gorgeous with excellent fine detail. It shines on Blu-ray and visually I found no faults here.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the excellent video transfer, Lionsgate have provided two fantastic audio options with a Dolby Atmos track or TrueHD 7.1 track. The sound design of the film is magnificent. They should have been nominated for the Oscar for sound editing. When this is most apparent is in the dance sequences in the film. When you watch them and hear them, you will understand. The soundtrack by Thom Yorke is great. It is probably my favorite soundtrack of last year and the song “Suspirium” should have won the Oscar for best song. Overall – these tracks are pretty amazing and will show off the subtle qualities of your speakers.
Supplements: What are the extras?
These three EPKs run less than fifteen minutes total. While short, all of the pieces are enjoyable.
- The Making of Suspiria – Luca Guadagnino explains what drew him to the project.
- The Secret Language of Dance – Choreographer Damien Jalet discusses what he aimed to achieve on the film.
- The Transformations of Suspiria – THe brutal special effects in the film are explored in more depth.
The Bottom Line
Suspiria is not as good as the original film, but it still has a unique vision. I feel like this movie will probably turn off a lot more viewers than it will please. It’s overlong and the plot goes pretty far off script from the original. That said, it has some great cinematography and a great score by Thom Yorke. Lionsgate have provided a few minutes of supplemental material and a fantastic looking and sounding transfer. Overall, I would recommend watching the original classic film from Dario Argento. I think Luca Guadagnino and his collaborators tried their best, but maybe they were trying a little too hard to make it work? After watching the film, I am still not sure what I really think about it. If you are dying of curiosity, I would strongly urge a rental prior to a purchase.