Suspiria ★★★★★

I actually saw this in theaters, back when it first came out, well before I saw the original. I loved it, but I held off on giving it a definitive write-up, because there was an interesting trend in other reviews that I was noticing; whatever people thought of the remake, whether good or bad, it had something to do with how they felt about the iconic original.

So I only got around to watching the original last week, and it was a hell of an interesting watch. More interesting for me, now that I could compare it more completely to the decades-later reimagining. The changes between Original Suspiria and Remake Suspiria have been well-documented; the original is a brisk 100-minute affair, while the remake blows the runtime out to two and a half hours. The original ends with the twist ending (spoilers, by necessity) that the dance studio is actually a coven for witches, which is a revelation the remake opens with. And, in the most blatant act of deliberate distancing, the original's legacy almost entirely revolves around its bright, vibrant color palette, while the remake is as muted and washed out as anything.

And you know what? It totally fucking works. I've had time to think about it, and I've come to the conclusion the 2018 remake of Suspiria ranks among the best horror remakes out there, right up with Cronenberg's The Fly or Carpenter's The Thing. Like those two examples, the Suspiria remake is a prime example of what movie remakes should be. It’s unquestionably Suspiria, what with its subject matter being a creepy dance academy of witches in Germany. But right from the jump, it forgets its own identity. And not in an ostentatious way, like it's deliberately putting the original down to lift itself up. It just goes about its business, with clarity and confidence. Again, I saw this in the theaters having not seen the original, so I can confidently say that this 100% stands as its own thing.

The atmosphere this movie creates is as strong as the original's. What makes it brilliant, though, is how it's pitched at a totally different register. The original was high camp, deliberately so (and I'll never understand the mindset that sees "camp" as an automatic insult), whereas this is a straight-faced, solemn exercise, one which dispenses with haunted house trappings in favor of some truly unnervingly gruesome shit. Instead of maggots falling from the ceiling, or a dancer getting killed by a SUDDEN SLINKY ROOM, here our initial horror scene is an extended sequence where a bunch of witches torture this dancer with metal hooks that look right out of Leatherface’s meat locker. It's genuinely one of the most unsettling scenes I can remember in recent horror years' and that's this movie's warm-up.

Every part of this film that others took as a detriment, I think enhance the experience. It's running time, especially, I felt the movie earned; and I'm the kind of guy who usually rails against this modern trend of bloating a movie's length to ridiculous proportions, I guess because serious movies are long? But I never felt the length, which is impressive, as horror - especially suspense - is really tough to sustain for longer than 90 minutes. But this one did.

It's also a more overtly political movie than the original, where one of the most impressive aspects was how removed it felt from the real world. The original Suspiria is timeless, which is a hell of a feat considering how they were all dressed. But this new one is set in a very specific time in German history; the shadow of WWII looms hard over the film's events, and events such as the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 and RAF terrorist activities are given significant background attention. The theme of postwar trauma and uncertainty is strong in this one, and it's a theme the movie brilliantly engrains into the narrative. There are few things worse than a film shoehorning a confused political angle where it doesn't work, but that's a trap that Luca Guadagnino and David Kajganich are smart enough to avoid, as each one of their story nuances and otherwise extraneous details are woven perfectly into the overall story.

I might be talked into agreeing that the epilogue was unnecessary; like Psycho, it's a button on a story that might be more effective without one. Having said that, I'm conflicted, because the final scene in this movie works, both thematically and just as a scene itself, whereas the psychiatrist's scene in Psycho isn't just bad for being unnecessary; it's bad because that actor suuuuuuucked.

Then again, there are no bad scenes in Suspiria. Something about the energy of the movie, the tone it achieved through pitch-perfect camerawork, cinematography (this movie is beautiful for how colorless it is), editing, and especially sound mixing, gave this film a quality that was seductive as well as horrific. Again, I’m not saying this to put down the original, because this wasn’t a failing on its part, but something this film has over its predecessor is dance as a form of active storytelling. Maybe it’s just because I saw this one first, but I couldn’t help but find it ironic that, for a movie about a dance coven of witches, the actual dance scenes in that original film were pretty weak, with Jessica Harper just kind of swaying back and forth while eerie music played, and then she fainted. This film actually takes the concept of dance, and just like its deeper socio-political themes, ingrains it into the fabric of how the film plays. There are multiple sequences built entirely around them dancing, and each one has its own distinct personality, and story it’s trying to tell. Storytelling through dance is something the filmmakers for this version of Suspiria clearly understand, both in terms of how to shoot it - the choreography and camera placement to highlight the choreography are both incredible - and how to weave it into the overall experience of the movie.

Which, again, is a comparison I feel weird making, given that this isn’t an area where the new movie succeeds where the original fails; the original Suspiria barely even bothered with the dance, because that just wasn’t a consideration. It’s another testament to how successfully this remake divorces itself from its original. They’re completely different beasts, with this film replacing the original’s crazy Italian Prog-Rock scores with Thom Yorke at his moodiest and most oppressive. The camerawork and color stylings are as far from Argento as it’s possible to get, which is obviously a huge factor in this film’s overwhelming success. At no point is anyone in this production trying to beat Argento, or even be him. I know I’m running the risk of belaboring the point, but it really must be understood how completely this stands on its own, a modern masterpiece entirely distanced from the past, without having to bury it.

This isn’t an instance of a remake impetuously believing itself to be superior to the old, sad, washed up original. Far from it; in every frame, Guadagnino reveals a deep love of the original, and that era of horror. This is a very ‘70s-inflected movie, with sudden zooms and practical effects (the human pretzel scene? REAL. That actress is just an incredibly skilled contortionist). But it’s not an empty-headed nostalgia fest, and Guadagnino is smart enough to realize that if he tries to replicate Argento, he’s going to look a fool, because a) only Argento can do Argento, and b) that time for filmmaking has come and gone. So the only way this remake works is if it boldly stakes its claim as its own thing.

And it works. Maybe it helped that I went in with a completely open mind, blank to any preconceived ideas as to what I was getting into (again, I didn’t see the original, but I also think it helped that this was a movie I’d deliberately avoided all the marketing/trailers/early reviews for), but I do think that even if I were a ride-or-die Suspiriahead, the sheer depth and intelligence of this new one would’ve won me over in no time. It’s not just that it’s a terrifying movie, it’s an emotional one, raw in its precision and breathtaking in its clarity. In a world where most horror remakes are cynical, pathetic nostalgia whores, movies like this are a treasure.

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