Suspiria (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Self-indulgent but interesting anyway

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Luca Guadagnino’s latest film “Suspiria”, which is the remake of Dario Argento’s classic horror film of the same name, boldly attempts to present its own style and substance. Although its attempt is not wholly successful, it is still an interesting variation which provides us a number of visually striking moments to be savored and appreciated, and you may come to forgive its stylish self-indulgence to some degree.

After the prologue scene involved with an old psychiatrist living in West Berlin, 1977, the movie shows us the following arrival of Susanna “Susie” Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a young American country girl who recently left her rural Mennonite hometown in Ohio for studying dance at some respectable dance company in West Berlin. Although nothing looks certain when she arrives at a big old-fashioned building belonging to that dance company, she instantly impresses its teachers including Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) thanks to her considerable raw talent, and she is soon allowed to stay along with those young company members including Sarah Simms (Mia Goth) in the company building.

Right from her first training day, Susie shows more of her talent in front of Madame Blanc and others, and she eventually finds herself selected as the new lead performer for the upcoming dance performance, but it seems something fishy is going on in the company. Before Susie arrived, one company member was suddenly disappeared, and Sarah later tells Susie more about the suspicious circumstance surrounding that company member’s disappearance. It looks like that company member knew something about Madame Blanc and other teachers, and it is highly possible that they were responsible for that company member’s disappearance.

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It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Madame Blanc and other teachers have been planning something insidious behind their back, because the movie does not hide that at all from us from the start. If you have been seen Argento’s 1977 film, you already know that they are in fact the secret members of a coven, and they do have a certain diabolical plan on Susie, but Madame Blanc seems to have some reservation as becoming more curious about Susie. Even after experiencing a rather uncanny thing at one point, Susie does not seem to be that disturbed much, and it looks like all she cares about is fulfilling a dream she has nurtured since her childhood years.

Meanwhile, the movie also pays considerable attention to a volatile social/political circumstance outside the company. As there are constant news reports associated with several key members of the Baader–Meinhof Group, the citizens of West Berlin are often unnerved by the possibility of another terror incident, and this moody atmosphere is further accentuated by the drab visual texture of the film. While the city mostly looks stark and barren under chilly and gloomy weather, the company building is usually shrouded in shadows and shades, and we come to sense more of something insidious lurking somewhere in the building.

Mainly through the aforementioned old psychiatrist, the screenplay by David Kajganich tries to bring some historical context to the story, but I am not so sure about whether that is as successful as intended. As alternating between the subplot involved with that psychiatrist and the main part associated with Susie and other figures in the dance company, the movie sometimes seems to lose its direction especially during its middle part, and I must confess that I felt often impatient while watching that part.

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Nevertheless, the movie did not bore me at least. Although its running time (152 minutes) is rather too long and I think I will not mind trimming it around 20-30 minutes for a more efficient narrative, the movie steadily provides several nice moments of terror and horror, and it does not disappoint us as serving us with more excessive moments later in the story. There is a little naughty moment involved with two clueless detectives visiting the company building, and then there is a gloriously uninhibited dance performance scene as expected, and then there eventually comes a loony and bloody climactic sequence which would exalt Ken Russell for good reasons.

The main cast members of the movie are willing to throw themselves into whatever they are required to do, and some of them are commendable in their committed acting. While she has been mainly known for “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015) and its two following sequels, Dakota Johnson is a good actress as shown from her wonderful supporting turn in Guadagnino’s previous film “A Bigger Splash” (2015), and she diligently carries the film as supported well by various notable performers including Mia Goth, Sylvie Testud, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton, who surely has lots of fun with playing no less than three different characters in the film.

Overall, “Suspiria” does not exceed that wild, phantasmagoric energy of the original version, but it is still a curious case of remake on the whole, and I observed it with constant fascination while enjoying how willingly Guadagnino and his cast and crew members go all the way for those bold moments in the film. Yes, it is indeed self-indulgent to the core, but it is an admirable attempt on the whole, and it deserves its place right below the original version in my inconsequential opinion.

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