Luca Guadagnino's 'Suspiria' is a Bland, Beige Remake Without Any Meaning
Feel free to revoke my pretentious, chin-stroking cinema card because when it comes to the new Suspiria I’ve got no idea what the fuck it is.
No major spoilers! You’re safe!
As soon as Chloë Grace Moritz showed up in the first scene of Suspiria, I knew I was in trouble. In fact, for a single second my brain shrieked “Is Luca Guadagnino taking the piss?” for Ms. Grace Moritz is surely a cinematic talisman for bad horror remakes, by this point. I really don’t need to remind you of Kimberley Pierce’s misguided remake of Carrie and Matt Reeves’ dreadful American remake of the near-perfect Swedish horror Let the Right In, do I? She starred in both and now she’s hit the big three with Suspiria. Hopefully they send her some Walmart vouches or a Taco Bell platinum card for the achievement.
In Suspiria, the actor (very briefly) plays a troubled young woman in therapy complaining about the witches running her dance company. She babbles a lot of incoherent nonsense and rolls her eyes around her head cos WITCHCRAFT. We were barely twenty minutes into the movie before I started to get the distinct impression I was going to hate every second of it. Clearly, I was destined not to find any meaning in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. Behind me, a woman told her boyfriend that now was probably the best time to go the toilet since this film is almost three hours long. In unison, both us let out a slightly panicked, disgruntled sigh at the cinematic mission that lay ahead of us.
It isn’t that Guadagnino’s take on Dario Argento’s mesmerising horror classic is bad, but it’s definitely bloated, pompous, and overwrought. It’s also worth noting that Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton are both exceptional in the movie and can’t be faulted. But unless you’re fluent in the art of interpretative dance then you may find yourself - as I did - as lost as a Markos Dance Company performer discovering rooms within rooms as the plot hurls a slew of misdirection and unnecessary sub-plots at you out of nowhere. Suspiria is a very ornate cinematic Russian Doll without a final babushka at the bottom. By the time you’ve cracked open the 60th layer of this movie - only to find the same superifical hollow shell - you’ll be wanting to put the whole thing back together and head home, already.
There are moments, for instance, where I thought for sure Suspiria had found a direction. Set in Berlin in 1977, the movie makes nebulous references to the Holocaust and the Cold War and provides an extended reference to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181. By the time the movie’s wonderfully striking horror centerpiece takes place in the middle of the movie (and it is honestly, truly remarkable), it’s tempting to be convinced that all of this political subtext has meaning. Is Guadagnino’s film relating this dance company to an army? Is he providing commentary regarding the violent choereography of war? Is he comparing organised acts of crime and violence to a dance routine? Eh, maybe.
But as The Hollywood Reporter once stated of Suspiria, “Untangling the new movie’s plot feels like a fools errand.” And how. As soon as you figure you’ve got a handle on what the fuck is going on, the movie drops plotlines and ideas and heads in an entirely new direction. Suspria’s shallow appropriation of political symbolism is apt for a time when performative wokeness is just about everywhere as the movie wears its political references like a white suburban kid would wear a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt without having ever been to a rally.
All convulated storytelling (and lack thereof) aside, Suspria is also just really boring. Argento’s original movie has long been celebrated for its striking colour scheme and visual maleficence while Guadagnino’s “cover version” of it is bland, subduded, and lacks personality. In fact, it’s worse than that. With the exception of the final act, Suspiria is fucking beige. It’s like translating a couture runway line into a set of normcore basics. At one point during the second half of the movie I even nodded off, waking with shock to survey the people around me to discover the lad sat beside me had also fallen asleep.
Once the shock and awe of Guadagnino’s central moment of violence has passed, the movie simply plays with the storytelling equivalent of a knotted ball of string until it can head towards it’s madcap, blood soaked finale. And it’s a little hammy and dumb, but at the very least it introduces some colour to the palette and (gasp!) even the briefest suggestion of fun. Right before an unexpectly heart-wrenching climax that genuinely made me choke up a little (but that’s not really an achievement since I’m always blubbing about something).
By the time the final credits rolled I was relieved it was over - oh, the relief! - and headed to the ladies so I could eavesdrop on everyone elses opinion of the film while joyously unleashing that wee I’d been holding in for the past two hours (I should have listened to the advice of the woman behind me). Turns out, I’m not the only one who didn’t “get it.” The general consensus seemed to be “Maybe it just isn’t supposed to make sense?” and “I thought it was far too long and didn’t actually do anything - but the dancing was nice.” Obviously, we’re all philistines.
Having failed to really connect with Gaudagnino’s Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name last year I’m beginning to think his films just simply aren’t for me. Maybe we’re just not meant to be pals, and that’s fine. Luca, lad, sorry - but you can’t sit with us.