Suspiria ★★★★

Remaking a beloved film is a tricky task. They often feel like soulless cash-ins or cheap pandering to nostalgia. Fortunately, director Luca Guadagnino decided to take his version of Suspiria in a completely different direction and the result is that it feels like a fresh reinterpretation of the source material instead of a retread.

The basic plot remains the same as the story revolves around Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) who is an American woman who has been accepted to a prestigious dance school in West Berlin. Another dancer that was attending the school had previously mysteriously gone missing and rumors of a witches coven further deepens the intrigue. The narrative has two main plot threads running simultaneously: Susie's struggle to fit in at the dance school and the investigation of the missing student by a curious psychotherapist named Dr. Josef (interestingly played by Tilda Swinton in male drag). All of this is set to the tune of the political unrest that was going on in West Berlin during the late '70s.

In this version of Suspiria, Guadagnino decided to lean heavily into the dancing aspect of the narrative, and there are several beautifully choreographed dance sequences in the film. The idea of kinetic body movement directly translating into casting magic spells is creative and it adds an element of theatricality to the atmosphere. Dancing is even incorporated into an incredibly gruesome kill culminating in one of the most harrowing and mesmerizing moments of body horror I have seen in recent memory. The costuming and editing during these dance segments is masterful, though the sheer amount of it might be off-putting to those expecting a more straightforward horror film. The flamboyant colors that Dario Argento used in the original film are missing, but the dancing adds a different type of "color" if you will.

Another interesting subtext in this film is the emphasis on femininity and the way women interact with both each other and their environment. The witch coven is more fleshed out in this iteration and their influence is felt throughout the entire film. There are very few male characters and the ones that do appear are at the mercy of the witches ire and derision. One could almost say that the witches aren't exactly evil as much as they are ambitious, and I found this moral ambiguity to be refreshing. They are a product of their environment and though they have violent ways of accomplishing their goals, they share a respect for each other and an admirable devotion to their ideology.

The look of this version of Suspiria is much more grounded and subdued color palette wise, but the third act has some insane visuals that will definitely make an impact on viewers. Thom York's musical score is absolutely gorgeous, with its dreamy vocals and detuned lush electronic melodies. York's decision to keep vocals on some of his tracks might be distracting to some, but I found it to enhance what was going on.

My main negative with the film is the length and the pacing. At 152 minutes, this movie is almost a full hour longer than the original, and quite frankly a lot of it is meandering and self-indulgent, especially in the second act. I don't have an issue with slow films, but they do need to have consistent pacing and forward motion. I can tell this was a passion project for Guadagnino and I can respect his vision but at the same time, the slow pacing is going to be a hard sell for a lot of people. The final thirty minutes of the film is worth the wait, but how many will give up before that point? It is what it is though, and this is how he chose the narrative to flow.

There are those who would dismiss this film just because it exists, but it is not meant to be a replacement of the original masterpiece, but a different take on the same idea. Those who give it a chance might be pleasantly surprised by its scope and panache. Be forewarned though, this movie is incredibly gruesome at times and its arthouse trappings hides a nasty and disturbing core.

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