I’m blaming screenwriter David Kajganich for Suspiria’s biggest failures as a remake of a cult classic. I caught up with the original – Dario Argento’s bonkers Italian giallo horror film from 1977 – almost a year ago. That film overwhelmed my senses in the best possible way. The hallucinatory color palette, grand guignol-style gore, and seminal score from prog-rock band Goblin collaborated to give me an unforgettable experience.
The ’77 version is also relatively light on plot. All you really need to know is that a coven of witches who run a dance studio are grooming their newest member for something nefarious. The bulk of the 98-minute runtime is concerned with either building tension or letting the blood flow, not adding layer upon layer of tortured plot machinations.
Director Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake is too concerned with making the movie about something. Kajganich’s extra story elements add an hour to the movie, so at 153 minutes, this version of Suspiria is bloated and pretentious. The film is set in late 1970s Germany, like the original. In his version, Kajganich adds a psychiatrist still grieving the loss of his wife, who disappeared during the Holocaust. There is also a subplot that follows, through television news reports, a terrorist hijacking incident that becomes a hostage situation. Our protagonist, Susie, is also dealing with her own personal demons from her upbringing in a Mennonite family. It’s all too much and pales in comparison to the tight, hypnotic structure of its predecessor.
Guadagnino’s visual style is, however, most satisfying. Besides the gore – and there is plenty of it, especially in the last act – Suspiria is effectively drained of color. Director of photography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s rain-soaked cinematography is sumptuous.
The performances, too, are exquisite. Dakota Johnson plays Susie. She is mesmerizing, especially during every one of her dance sequences. Tilda Swinton performs not one, not two, but three different roles. It took me half the movie to realize it was her in one of them. I didn’t even know it was her in the third until I checked IMDb after the movie ended. Swinton, per usual, is delightfully off-kilter, but her multiple characters also speak to how unfocused Suspiria is. Guadagnino populates the rest of the film with memorable faces in both the dancers and the coven of witches who run the studio.
The biggest disappointment in the picture is Thom Yorke’s score. The Radiohead frontman produced a few memorable ballads for the movie, but the rest is too somber and barely-there to be effective. It also suffers by comparison with Goblin’s outrageous, cacophonous work from the original Suspiria.
The whole of this version of Suspiria suffers when compared with the original. It might not be entirely fair to make the comparison, but the filmmakers should have expected it when trying to recreate such an iconic cult classic.