Kyle Armstrong’s review published on Letterboxd:
I think my apathy for the original Suspiria - and all hyper-stylized things - is well-documented at this point. And while I was certainly intrigued by this remake, I avoided it because I figured hating the original meant I'd hate this remake.
While the two are essentially the same film - telling the same exact story, in a broad sense, at least - their presentation could not be more different. Instead of a bright color palette alluding the the end of Giallio's peak, this uses a muted palette alluding to the German/Eastern Bloc films of the late 70s/early 80s. Instead of a tight 90 minutes where the plot is secondary, we are given a sprawling epic of mainstream Slow Cinema chalk filled with text, subtext, b-plots, historical context, and mythology building. Instead of the gothic prog of Goblin, we're given the drone of post-Radiohead, a band that has not released a worthwhile album since In Rainbows, in my eyes, if they even ever had released something of value by then. Instead of camp culture in the production design, heightened camera angles, b-horror gore, and the hammy acting, we're given ~Arthouse~ method, post-Saw realist gore, quiet push-ins and technically-impressive camera tricks, and sets that feel physically real. There are hints of the original's influence sprinkled throughout, mainly in a few quick zooms and in the climax's pivot towards the original's style, but for most part, this is a unique presentation of the story of Suspiria that feels like the opposite side of the same coin. And I will say, I'm much more amenable to the style of this new Suspiria.
The problem is that it still isn't great.
There's certainly highlights. For starters, Swinton essentially culminates her entire early collaborations with Jarman into her roles, and it's beautiful to watch. It's also hard for Swinton to miss, so even if I prefer her late career approach to acting - which is a little less Art Film Camp and a little more Art Nouveau Camp - this is still a high-water market in a flawless and frankly underrated career. On the other hand, Johnson proves that she can do more and be more than a pale vessel for acting, and while she's essentially told to make a meta-commentary on the perception of her as an actress, she certainly puts a lot more work into it than, say, Jennifer Lawrence in her similar vessel-role in mother!. And of course, if anyone is to be praised behind the camera, it's Guadagnino, who's talents as a direct are so obvious, and so unpretentious in the larger context of Indie Cinema. There are choices made here that are just really smart, and while some of those choices involve the cinematography or the editing, you can always feel Guadagnino's hands in this project. And while I do think it could've been handled better, the tri-story plot involving a divided Berlin in the 70s and a Jewish refugee story from the 40s is smart, and works to tease out the implied themes in witch tales within a modernized context.
But all this good is nothing but craft. To actually watch this Suspiria is a drag and a half. Essentially, there's nothing to sink your teeth into. For all the effort put into moving the plot to the forefront, it's still the same implied plot from the original, and while a little myth building helps give this some gas, it's not enough to keep you compelled for 2.5 hours. And what new elements are added can be figured out within the first 15 minutes. Now, this would not be so much a problem if, like the original, this film was style-over-substance, but because it seems to be defiantly substance-over-style, it's a bit confusing why this isn't a more complicated film. As for the compare-contrast between Germany in the 40s and Germany in the 70s, it feels like these are more threads to sustain the runtime, and while they contribute to the core plot, they don't influence it enough to warrant them as essential, which takes a lot out of them. And while there's good directing and good acting, those elements only go so far when you're trying to keep an audience engaged for 2.5 hours with a drab, grey color palette.
I may dislike the original on a subject level, but on an object level, it at least is always doing the absolute most to keep the audience absorbed, and while I think this remake is 1) a better film overall and 2) more to my tastes, it's hard to argue that it's doing the same legwork the original did. This is, for all intents and purposes, a movie that is literal background noise, and it's no surprise why it got instantly forgotten within a few months after its release. This is a remake that draws most of its power from name recognition and a stellar cast/crew, but those positives on paper don't ever lead to text that can stand on its own two legs without those draws. It is so crafted that there is no artistic merit left, and while I can't deny craft, I also can't endorse something that evaporates from thin air, either.