Suspiria, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is a viscerally overwhelming experience that had me transfixed by its unrelenting atmosphere and allured by the incomparable work by Tilda Swinton. However, those standout elements weren’t enough to distract me from the remakes many faults, some of which are so infectious, that it leaves me unsure if I can recommend this film. I’m really interested to explore all that Suspiria has to offer, as there are some well-handled offerings in this film – offerings that severely affected me physically and mentally, but there are also points to this film that are interesting to explore because of how damaging they are to a film that had within it the potential to be good. So, with all that being said, let’s dispense with this introduction and get to exploring the sinister depths of Suspiria.
Susie Bannion – played by Dakota Johnson – is accepted to the dance school of her dreams, where she will be the student of the world renowned, Madame Blanc – played by Tilda Swinton. However, the mysterious and sinister underbelly of the dance school soon begins to tighten its grasp around Susie, and inevitably she and some of her fellow students get pulled into a waking nightmare that some of them will never escape from.
It’s a bold choice to try to remake Suspiria. Not only is its original director – Dario Argento – a hugely influential force within filmmaking, but the original 1977 film went onto make such a significant impact on cinema. So, remaking it is both a brave choice and a strange one – why take on something so beloved and so influential when the inevitable response will more than likely be negative?
For me, I initially enjoyed this Suspiria remake and left feeling mildly positive about it. But the more time I’ve spent thinking about it, the more my opinion has soured on it. I want to first tackle what did work for me in Suspiria, before I begin to criticise the film for its significant failings, and I want to start with Guadagnino’s handling of the atmosphere in the film and the effect it goes onto have.
In Suspiria there is this ever present and ever unnerving atmosphere pulsating through the film – and subsequently the audience. It was an atmosphere that drew me in; it had me feeling forever on edge but eager to explore deeper into the evil layers of the dance school and the people in charge of it.
I think the most effective way in which the film achieves its unnerving atmosphere is through the sound design and the score. The sounds that scream out from the screen and the detailed assault to the ear drums can at times make Suspiria a film you want to cower from. It was always the sound that got to me first and then the disturbing imagery would come along to intensify the moment. Couple that with an intriguing score from Thom Yorke, and Suspira certainly makes it presence known early on, and never allows you to forget it.
It was primarily in this element of the film that I found myself the most lured in by the experience. My emotional masochism made me all the more eager to get taken away by the creepy madness of the dance school, and it certainly never fell short on offering that.
What else continually grabbed my attention was the ever-brilliant Tilda Swinton. Playing three characters in the film; Swinton literally disappears into her performances at times. But it was her performance as Madame Blanc that interested me the most. She was someone who I at times found welcoming – like she was the only beacon of safety to hang onto – and other times was the most unpredictably scary presence on-screen. I always delight in getting to watch the subtle, yet towering work of Tilda Swinton, and Suspira was no different.
And I was glad Swinton had such a prominent presence on the screen, because the other primary lead in the film; Dakota Johnson left a lot to be desired. Her acting can best be described as a blackhole where emotions disappear into and only a statue like image is projected back at you. I was hopeful Guadagnino’s choice to cast her in the lead would pay off, but much like a number of his decisions in this film, it simply didn’t work out in the films favour. There was a glimmer of hope from young actress, Mia Goth – who played Sara – who for decent portion of the film took the focus of the narrative. She was a far more compelling actor to watch and I feel would have been a much better choice for the leading role.
Beyond the poor casting of the lead role, what also really didn’t work for me was visually how the film looked. While the sounds on offer were alluring and exciting, the visual style of the film left a lot to be desired. The more muted colour tones and the mostly drab, forgettable cinematography left much of Suspira being an unpleasant film to look at. There are maybe only two scenes – three at a stretch – that come flashing back into my memory when I try to think of scenes that made an impact on me. It’s sadly a film that never caught my eye.
But what I think is Suspiria’s biggest problem, and is the thing I think will push a lot of prospective viewers away, is how cumbersome the film is. With a runtime of 2 hours and 32-minutes (compared to 98-minutes for the original) and a plot that is unnecessarily complex; Suspiria is a film that at times feels like too much. There are a number of branching elements to the plot that feel aimless and things after a while do become muddled in their handling. There’s also the issue that with there being so much for the film to explore and explain; much of the nuance and subtlety is pushed aside for clumsy and seemingly never-ending exposition. It’s simply a film that just keeps giving, and much of it isn’t wanted or needed.
And so as Suspira went on the more I felt it was losing me. In the beginning I was hooked by the spooky atmosphere. I was excited to see some more of the shocking body horror that got quite the reaction from the audience around me (I even found myself feeling a little queasy after one particular scene, which hasn’t happened to me in a long time). But as the film dragged on and issues began to pile up, Suspiria was a film I began to lose a connection with.
It was when I first realised I had no emotional care or connection for any of the characters, that I knew the film wasn’t working for me. But it was made abundantly clear to me when I was watching one of the final scenes in the film where the witches’ plan had come to fruition. It was in that scene that the film took a turn. The graphic, unsettling imagery turned into schlocky, cheap looking nonsense. It was a scene that felt out of touch with the rest of the film. It didn’t feel consistent with what had come before, and it did a lot to undo the atmospheric work done prior to it. All that had attracted me in and I had enjoyed faded away and rather than the film ending on a satisfyingly intense conflict between Susie and the witches, it instead fizzled out with a concluding scene that was silly looking and in no way as effective as the type of scenes that had come before – the type that literally had me feeling queasy and uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing: despite my negativity, this Suspiria remake isn’t a bad film. Somewhere in this encumbered 152-minute experience is a good film, but annoyingly getting to it is no easy task… and for some probably not worth it. Which brings me to my final point and that is: who is the audience for this film?
I ask this because I see two groups of people going to see this film and I can’t see either enjoying it. There are the fans of the original 1977 version who won’t like this interpretation, and there are new viewers who are probably hoping for a satisfying horror experience. Now, there’s certainly some well-done horror in this film, but to get to it involves a lengthy and sometimes overly obtuse (despite all the exposition) experience. Which brings me back to my point of who is this film for? Who will go see it and enjoy what it offers. In terms of me (someone who loves the original) I enjoyed the film (sometimes) but it isn’t one that has made any meaningful impact on me. While I’ve pondered some of the questions it leaves open, I’ve never thought about the film in a way that I found emotionally resonant – it left me feeling… nothing.
I unfortunately don’t think I can recommend, Suspiria. There’s just too much clutter and it inevitably ends up overshadowing the good parts of this film. It’s a shame because Luca Guadagnino is a director whose work I thoroughly enjoy – his film from last year, Call Me by Your Name – made it onto my list of ‘Films that Stood Out to Me in 2017’; click the link to check that out. But unfortunately, this film won’t be one I’ll be remembering much after I’ve posted this review.
I’d be interested to know your thoughts on Suspiria, and subsequently my review of it, so please feel free to leave any opinions or feedback you may have, in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read then please consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – so that I can hopefully grow this passion into something more. I’ll bring things to a close now by offering you my sincere thanks. Thank you so much for coming here and reading my sometimes literal ramblings (this review being a perfect example) it truly means so much to me! Thank you and have a wonderful day.