Suspiria ★★★

Hooptober 6.0, p.39- Slave to the Rhythm

10/6- 6 Decades (COMPLETE!)
13/6- Countries Represented (USA, UK, Italy, Mexico, Germany, France, Canada, Austria, New Zealand, Philippines, Japan, Argentina, Spain) (COMPLETE!)

1st Luca Guadagnino

How does one remake the greatest Italian horror film? Well, you don’t. Not really, anyway. Guadagnino’s re-imagining of Argento’s iconic supernatural horror eschews the candy-coloured delirium of the original in favour of a somber, oppressive atmosphere.

It also gives the previously fairy-tale like narrative a historical context, dropping it into the ‘German August’ of 1977, a time of intense political unrest. I read somewhere that the screenwriter did not care for the original film, and was this motivated to put horror in a realist framework- the horror next door, if you will. While that’s a laudable idea, it ultimately falls flat due to the fact that the original Suspiria is, fundamentally, a very silly film. It posits that a coven of witches lives in a dance studio and kills anyone who tries to reveal their secrets, though this is a very simple reading of a film riddled with plot holes the size of France. No matter how much you dress it up with political insight and historical reference, at the core, you’ve got a dream story only vaguely pertaining to the real world.

It doesn’t help that the political insights cooked up are not particularly deep or original. While the film largely constructs a fairly coherent critique of collectivism and the ideological stagnation it produces, it runs aground linking it to Nazism, which it only does through vague suggestion. When the film does want to consciously make a political point, it does so by reducing the characters to empty speech makers, grinding he already slow narrative pace to a shuddering halt. The fixation with the WW2 and Baader-Meinhoff comes at the expense of any recognition of 50s and 60s German socio-politics. In the screenwriter’s world, it’s as if Germany was frozen in time after the Third Reich fell.

There’s a lot to admire about this film. The direction is superb, both of the actresses and the general choices in visual composition. Dakota Johnson is exceptional in the main role of Suzie, and Tilda Swinton is great as Madame Blanche, Guadagnino making the most of their highly expressive faces. Thom Yorke’s score is appropriately moody and rumbly (bar his annoying singing), and the title design is my favourite I’ve seen all year. The film’s kills, especially in the dance studio, are the highlights of the film as they should be. They show a flair for the grotesque and an understanding of the limits the body can face.

But all in all, the film is admirable but not loveable. It’s cold and bleak and self important. It’s worth a watch, but I’ll take the Argento any day.

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