Suspiria ★★★½

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First things first: Director Luca Guadagnino’s 'Suspiria' is not really a remake of Dario Argento’s inimitable 1977 giallo-turned-fantasia of the same name, at least not in any remotely meaningful sense of the word. Both films are (loosely) horror features, and both are centered on a Berlin-based dance school that serves as a front for a coven of witches. Other than those reductive facts and some shared character names and traits, 'Suspiria' 2018 has almost nothing in common with 'Suspiria' 1977. To say that the former is a remake of the latter is akin to asserting that 'Blood for Dracula' (1974) is a remake of 'Nosferatu' (1922): technically correct in some tortured sense, but not very relevant or edifying.

Nonetheless, owing to the shared title – and a “based on characters by” credit to Argento and his collaborator and then-partner Daria Nicolodi – it’s perhaps inevitable that Guadagnino’s film will be discussed in the context of its predecessor’s long, blood-red shadow. Indeed, it’s clear that Guadagnino has, in numerous respects, quite deliberately fashioned his 'Suspiria' as a counterpoint to Argento’s feature. The 1977 film operates according to the logic of a nightmarish fairy tale, reveling in the way that color, sound, and music can be employed as vectors for pure, almost abstracted terror. The 'Suspiria' of 2018, meanwhile, is chilly and cerebral, a thesis on all the unsettled atrocities of the past and present, couched in the vocabulary of feminist theory and body horror. It’s gray and severe where Argento’s film is garish and florid; political rather than mythic; forlorn rather than fantastical. If the first 'Suspiria' is Matisse’s 'Dance', then the second is Francis Bacon’s 'Pope Innocent X'.

Almost by definition, Guadagnino’s version could never be as aesthetically and primordially galvanic as its namesake. (How could it? What filmmaker would even want to try?) For that, Argento enthusiasts will perhaps inevitably give this reimagining all kinds of flak, some of it deserved, most of it not. Unquestionably, 'Suspiria' 2018 is an intellectually immodest thing, as swollen with ideas as a 2,000-page dissertation on Marxist themes in the oeuvre of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (whose works this film at times evokes). Yet Guadagnino’s feature is ultimately content to be thought-provoking rather than groundbreaking – if occasionally horrific in bizarre, innovative ways...

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