I have to confess that I am not precious about Argento's film (the first in his 'Three Mothers Trilogy') and I do think that it's considerably overrated. I adore its atmosphere and cannot deny its incredible artistry, however I can't say the same for its story (or lack thereof) or for any of its acting. It holds a place in the horror pantheon, absolutely, but I don't hold it in such esteem that a remake would upset me.
And so here it is. SUSPIRIA '18, an epic 152-minute odyssey into the nightmarish recesses of a Berlin ballet school. Set in 1977 Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, an American ballerina who travels to West Germany to study at a renowned dance academy under the guidance of the famed Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Before long it becomes obvious that something's amiss and that the school fosters a sinister secret. The academy, it turns out, is a facade for a coven of witches (no spoiler in that), and their students are purely for sacrificial purposes as they attempt to raise the great Mother Suspiriorum.
The overall plotting is basically the same as Argento's film, however more time and attention has been invested in joining the dots. There is little room for confusion as the narrative trots along lineally, and where the original film concerned itself with surrealism and dreamscape imagery, this new adaptation is all about story. Its notable set-pieces are certainly striking, and the horror is wincingly macabre, however Guadagnino takes a literal approach to his visceral storytelling.
Dakota Johnson makes for an unassuming lead, presenting a modest beauty free of glamour. She is eloquent, softly spoken and outrageously flexible and graces the screen with a performance that is as unsettling as it is gracious. Swinton is expectedly morose as the stern practitioner whose expectations and methods are notorious, and she commands a sinister screen presence. The remaining cast are adequate, giving good support, although their characters are not integral enough to focus any substantial attention on, aside from their ensembled scenes of witchcraft.
The weakest link, however, is Swinton (say what?). Ah-huh... the rumours were true and the jig is up. Swinton also played an aging therapist character by the name of Dr Jozef Klemperer. With a face-hugging prosthetic makeup and other less-than-subtle aging techniques, her identity was never in doubt. If an old guy looks like Tilda Swinton and sounds like Tilda Swinton, then it's Tilda Swinton. Klemperer is at first a great character with an important role in exposing the academy's secret, however casting Swinton in the role instead of an actual male actor feels disingenuous to the audience. Adding further insult is the silly and unnecessary subplot given to the character. Through a series of flashbacks we are given his backstory, telling a tale of love-divided as the formation of East and West Germanys separated him and his wife. None of this hogwash is integral to the greater narrative and had Guadagnino removed it the film would have come in as a more respectable running time with more impact.
One of the most iconic attributes to Argento's '77 film is the all-encompassing soundtrack by Italian prog-rockers Goblin. It was a benchmark for music in horror and recreating its impact was never an option for any remake, and so the best port of call was to attach a respected musician with an infinity for the strange and intricate. Cue Thom Yorke (Radiohead), whose approach to SUSIRIA is eclectic, haunting and alarming. His music is phenomenon and the film is full of fantastic moments where music and imagery soar to majestic heights. BUT.... there's an overall disconnection as a whole. His score feels too contemporary and modern for a period piece set in the 1970s. With an adequate level of suspended disbelief it's a factor that's easily overlooked, however given the needless subplot of the psychologist and the hidden-Swinton factor, such a discrepancy between the music and the era detracts from the film's overall impact.
SUSPIRIA '18 is a very good film that should have been great. It is a long haul with substantial payoffs strewn throughout. It never detracts from the original film and it aught to quench the thirst of most respectable horror fiends.