Film Review: Suspiria

Still from Suspiria 2018

For what is nominally a horror movie, the new Suspiria is notably ambitious, aiming for a comparatively epic vision.

This movie is a strange experience, no doubt about it – but is Suspiria the kind of strange experience worth investing two-and-a-half hours of screen time in? For this reviewer, not really.

A free adaptation of the 1977 Dario Argento cult favourite of the same name, this new Suspiria will never be accused of slavish or boring imitation of its source material; it’s not what could be described as a typical ‘pointless horror remake’. Whether it’s sufficiently successful or worthwhile in its own right, as a movie that captures the imagination, engages the emotions, and jolts the nerves, is more doubtful.

There is a lot of low-key, moody atmosphere on display in director Luca Guadagnino’s visual style, aided by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (shooting on film) and an unobtrusive music score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. Fleeting glimpses of weird imagery during dream sequences do a particularly fine job of whetting the appetite and building the tension, bit by bit, towards whatever may be waiting for us in the next scene…

Adding to the initial intrigue is a relatively complex storytelling structure. The screenplay (by David Kajganich) incorporates not just the exploits of a spooky German dance school but also flashbacks to the Mennonite upbringing of Suspiria’s central figure (played by the always-appealing Dakota Johnson). In addition, we witness the parallel activities of a psychiatrist who was sought out by Chloe Grace Moretz’s especially anxious (and now missing) dancer, but who is dealing with a difficult, mysterious past history of his own…

For what is nominally a horror movie, the new Suspiria is notably ambitious, aiming for a comparatively epic vision, but despite the notable skills on display here (both in front of and behind the camera), does the material – even when expanded and re-contextualised – really warrant such treatment lavished on it? Any storytelling premise involving the supernatural runs the risk of seeming silly and nonsensical if not treated carefully and credibly – but in the end, it’s just not possible to take Guadagnino’s film seriously on any deep psychological or historical level. The climax of this long journey is extravagantly gruesome, but not very emotionally affecting.

Could it be that this re-imagining of Suspiria – when compared to its 1977 inspiration – is a film of superior intelligence, complexity, and all-around film craft? Yes, perhaps. Will it reward repeat viewing for anyone keen to do so? Again, maybe. It is perhaps mere personal preference coming into play here, but this reviewer would still decisively choose the outrageously bold, garish, incoherent (and relatively brief) blast of bad taste that Dario Argento cooked up in 1977 over this new version. It amps up the complexity and stretches out the length but dials down the fun, making for an experience that promises much but is epic mainly in its disappointment.


Suspiria is currently playing at Palace Nova Prospect.
Click here for session times.

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