Amazon's Suspiria Review
150 minutes of dancing at an Academy run by Holocaust surviving witches
Remaking the horror classic by Dario Argento, Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria remake is stylish, suitably grotesque, and meticulously authentic in its 70s Germany stylisation, but it's also painfully indulgent.It's a tough call remaking a classic horror from the 70s, tougher still if the remake is set in the 70s, immediately pushing audiences further down the path of questioning its very existence. The story is relatively slight, reliant instead on mood, atmosphere and rampant style and symbolism to get it through, overwhelming the senses in a bid to compensate for the limited depth of the piece.
Whilst Guadagnino would go on to protest the notion of this even being a remake, it's hard to avoid comparison when telling such a specific tale, but even judged apart from its predecessor, and even for those utterly unfamiliar with the Argento classic, 2018's Suspiria is a frustrating beast that really requires a whole lot more patience than it should.
2018's Suspiria is a frustrating beast that really requires a whole lot more patience than it should
The story follows the character of Susie, an American dancer who wows the instructor at a strict German dance Academy and wins the chance to lead a celebrated dance. At the same time an ageing psychiatrist receives a disturbing visit from one of his young patients, who claims that the Academy is run by a coven of witches...
There's certainly something to be said for Guadagnino's commitment to simmering atmosphere and unrestrained, authentic body horror - Cronenberg would be proud by the lengths gone to in order to contort and break bodies without CG running rampant. It's arguably the most distinguishing feature of Suspiria, which goes grotesque and then some in order to leave you uneasy (and, although it's somehow forgone a physical media release, a 4K Blu-ray release would have been unlikely so the 4K version that's come as an Amazon Prime Exclusive is probably as good as fans could have hoped for - tackling the hardcore stylisation, rich tones and inky blacks with aplomb).
The cast similarly commit utterly to the piece, not least Swinton in a trio of roles (despite the best makeup in the world, it was a bit of a nonsense pretending she wasn't playing another key part in the film - coming across as a publicity stunt during production). She's the one who holds the film together, with a strew of familiar faces on hand, including a brief cameo for Chloe Grace Moretz, more meat for Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness), and the ostensible lead to 50 Shades star Dakota Johnson (who was decent in Bad Times at the El Royale). Johnson is suitably swept up in the piece, but also utterly vacant, giving you zero feel for her character beyond her possessed dancing, which leaves the piece fairly soulless.
The marmite of the piece will have either suckered you in or induced so much eye-rolling that you'll empathise with the possessed seizures its characters succumb to
With no one to really get behind (perhaps aside from the beleaguered psychiatrist), the 150+ minute Suspiria is a tough slog, not least because it takes its sweet time to actually deliver anything creepy. As Endgame recently showed, 3 hours is a walk in the park with the right material - and it hardly has to be wall-to-wall action, but Suspiria should be a taut horror first, instead coming across as a love letter written by its director, who is clearly enamoured by the material but also doesn't know when to yell cut. Anything with this much symbolism - and flash imagery - needs to build tension better, deliver more frequent horror, and frankly get to the point. Suspiria eventually goes full tilt in a bid to shock its way to submission, but by then the full marmite of the piece will have either suckered you in or induced so much eye-rolling that you'll empathise with the possessed seizures its characters succumb to. It all turns into a graphically naked and extremely bloody version of the rhythmic tree dance in Avatar, and just about as ridiculous too.
Kudos to the filmmakers for revelling in the authentic period trappings, and sticking with brutal body horror, but Suspiria remains an indulgent work which will challenge the patience of even those who are coming fresh to the material.
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