Comparing Apples and Oranges
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writers: Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters)
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick
Long, arty, gruesome and maybe a little grandiose, Suspiria is certainly bold, to say nothing of polarizing. Aside from the basic plot, it has little in common with Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, with a completely different aesthetic and tone. Whether or not one approves of what director Luca Guadagnino has done with the material, simply rehashing the original would have been pointless.
Comparing the two is equally pointless. Where Argento’s film is scary, loud and visually flamboyant, the new one, while never truly terrifying, is unnerving nonetheless. Presented in six acts (along with an epilogue), it initially seems as though Guadagnino and screenwriter are attempting to appeal more to the arthouse crowd than thrill-seekers. But looks are deceiving. True, Suspiria is very deliberately-paced, somewhat pretentious and arguably too long. However, the film is ultimately more haunting than anything Argento has ever conjured up.
Part of the reason is the very atmosphere and pace some viewers will find so off-putting. Suspiria is unremittingly bleak, both visually and narratively. Deliberately devoid of the original’s garish color contrasts and pulsing score, the music, production design and cinematography are reflective of the overall tone. Those elements help to instill slow-building dread, punctuated by well-timed scenes of nightmarish imagery and jarring violence. I can think of one death scene in particular that might repulse even the most jaded viewer…while comparatively bloodless, damn-near every other bodily fluid is spilled. Everything culminates in an over-the-top climax that – depending on the viewer’s mood by this point – is either gloriously bonkers or ridiculously overblown. Or maybe both. Whatever the case, it’s certainly memorable.
Suspiria isn’t without its issues, especially the epic length. Overlong by half-an-hour, the subplot involving Germany’s political turmoil at the time – including an ongoing hostage situation perpetrated by Palestines – isn’t really necessary. The film could have done-away with these scenes without significantly impacting the overall narrative. And while the performances are generally decent, Dakota Johnson isn’t all that compelling in the lead role, American dancer Susie Bannon (though in her defense, the character wasn’t very interesting in the original, either).
However, Tilda Swinton – in three distinctly different roles – is nothing less than extraordinary. If the Academy didn’t have an inherent aversion to recognizing horror, she’d have an Oscar nomination. While simultaneously sympathetic and menacing as dance academy matriarch Madame Blanc, she shines as Dr. Klemperer, the widowed psychiatrist who begins to suspect nefarious doings behind a dancer’s disappearance. This isn’t mere stunt casting, though. Swinton is completely convincing as an aging male doctor (aided in no small part by impressive make-up and prosthetics).
Dario Argento himself didn’t care for the film, saying it “betrayed the spirit of the original.” Maybe that’s true. I can easily see many horror fans – especially those who hold Argento dear to their hearts – absolutely hating it. Personally, I appreciated Guadagnino’s ambitious – and audacious – approach to the material. It isn’t better or worse. In another case of apples & oranges, it’s a completely different animal that doesn’t warrant comparisons. Besides, the last thing anyone needs is another remake that simply pumps up the volume on same old story. This version of Suspiria is a disturbing, one-of-a-kind experience in it’s own right and highly recommended to adventurous viewers (with strong stomachs).