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“Suspiria” is a very different sort of horror remake

Two weeks in a row of classic horror films being remade, or at least a franchise being looked at with fresh eyes? We must be in late October. Hot on the heels of Halloween managing to give the Michael Myers series a worthwhile return from the indie mind of David Gordon Green, we now have Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria getting the remake treatment. Opening this week, this very unusual choice by filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, coming as the follow up to his Academy Award winning Call Me By Your Name, will likely confound you (as an aside, Green initially was going to do the Suspiria remake, so they’ll always be paired when discussing it). Some open minded viewers may find its obtuseness infatuating. Me? I found it underwhelming and often pretentious. Folks, this is one of the year’s bigger disappointments.

A remake of Argento’s classic, this flick follows the same broad strokes, but does diverge in a number of places. We’ll just focus on the plot of this new one here. We’re dropped right into Berlin as Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) is fleeing someone or something. She goes to the office of Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton as Lutz Ebersdorf), in a complete panic. Then, she disappears. At the same time, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has arrived in country to attend a prestigious ballet school. Under the tutelage of Madame Blanc (Swinton), she becomes a promising student. However, something is not right. Go figure, the school is really home to a coven of witches, one with designs on bringing Susie into the fold. From there, some really insane stuff goes down, some of which you’ll see coming, and some you most certainly won’t. Guadagnino directs a script by David Kajganich, while the supporting cast includes Elena Fokina, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Fred Kelemen, Doris Hick, Mikael Olsson, Alek Wek, Angela Winkler, and more. Cinematography is by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, while the score is composed by Thom Yorke.

Credit where credit is due…Guadagnino goes for it here. Gory at times yet oddly restrained at others, this is definitely his vision. In fact, it’s almost as if he’s daring you not to come along for the ride. Getting his prior work to the Oscars no doubt gave him the clout to make this. Otherwise, it never would have happened. Johnson and Swinton are once again committed partners for him, giving this an air of strong acting to help pull you through. Throw in some admittedly stunning visuals and a score that’s positively haunting, and the ingredients are there for something truly memorable. It just didn’t happen here for yours truly.

While this film admittedly doesn’t do it for me, I can appreciate that this is the sort of remake we should see more of. Halloween is more of a sequel, but this version of Suspiria doesn’t dumb things down. If anything, it smartens things up. In an era where remakes often are a dirty word and seem like mere cash grabs, this is the opposite. Truth be told, I’d rather be puzzled and let down by a dozen more movies like this, where expectations were initially high, as opposed to a dozen more throwaway studio remakes that you just know will suck from the word go.

It’s possible that Guadagnino just isn’t a filmmaker who I jive with. While Call Me By Your Name is his best film, I didn’t fall completely in love with it like most did. Suspiria might be next in line for me, but obviously, it’s a film I’m mixed on. The same goes for I Am Love (though I probably prefer it), while A Bigger Splash really underwhelmed me. Perhaps that influenced why this movie didn’t hit home for me? Whatever the reason, I was left incredibly cold by it. At one point, it was up there as one of my most anticipated of the year too, so this is a real bummer.

Adventurous viewers will have something truly different to see when Suspiria hits theaters in a few days. It wasn’t for me, but your milage may vary. Argento fans may or may not be into what Guadagnino has designed, but those who have enjoyed his previous works could be swooning. Don’t expect Academy Award attention, but removed from Oscar, this is a curiosity that might find a surprisingly big audience. Whatever the case, this is a horror offering unlike anything else currently in theaters. Sure to be divisive, it will undoubtedly inspire some animated conversations in the weeks to come. If nothing else, getting to see Swinton play an old man is something…

Suspiria begins its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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