This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew Draper’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Saw at BAM, alone.
Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich (who also had a hand in writing Kölsch and Widmyer's Pet Sematary) really set themselves a challenge, trying to remake
a) a beloved horror classic which
b) happens to be about evil witches (i.e. lady wizards) and
c) never made all that much sense to begin with
They addressed the first challenge with sheer chutzpah. They clearly threw out the rulebook for remakes and reconceived the whole thing from the ground up. Fair enough.
For the second challenge, mere boldness was not enough. In the 21st century, making a horror film about witches without wrestling with the patriarchal fear of women (and the way that fear has historically been cloaked in a veil of misogynist superstition) is a kind of cinematic malpractice. Meanwhile, pop culture depictions of witchcraft are dominated by J.K. Rowling's rule-laden, elaborate world-building, and we're less likely to be satisfied by a vague waving of the hand: "They're witches, y'know?...Who knows what could happen!" Well, you know what could happen, shithead. You're the storyteller, you decide how your world works. That's what it means to tell a good fantasy story. We want story and we want reversals, and you can't tell a story or set up a reversal without establishing some ground rules. These two dudes would have needed to have a hell of a plan to leap over these hurdles.
For a good part of the running time, I had enough suspension of disbelief. I thought they might really have a plan, and I was super on board with their three central initiatives:
a) it's set in Germany in 1977, so it should really be set in postwar Germany — shit, let's go all the way and put the Tanz Akademie right by the fucking Berlin Wall!
b) just as we pay attention to the political world outside the Akademie, the witches should also have their own internal politics and this should be part of the film's intrigue
c) they're teachers at a dance academy, obviously dancing should be part of their spellcraft
They created a lot of threads, though, and by the time we were headed into the endgame the stakes were awfully high. While the ending had a lot of gusto, I felt like they were still trying to brazen their way through with boldness. Once they turned their face cards up, their hand wasn't especially strong. It just didn't make much sense. That was definitely not the aspect of the original they should have been emulating. The screenplay needed at least one more draft.
Still for Dakota Johnson and Mia Goth, and for the dancing, I would gladly see it again. I wish there was more Mia Goth — she was a great foil for Johnson and I think the filmmakers missed out on something huge there.