Not really sure where to start with this 2018 version of Suspiria. Having only watched Dario Argento’s original after the announcement of this new version everything should be fairly fresh in my mind. I found Argento’s film to be visually appealing, atmospheric and certainly a little bit weird but was not entirely amazed or captured by the experience, possibly helped along by the fact that I seem to have an issue with any film that has dubbed dialogue. More often than not it takes me completely out of the moment and the original Suspiria was no different in this respect.
Suspiria (2018) is the story of an American dancer, Susie (Dakota Johnson), as she attempts to make her name at the, supposedly prestigious, Helena Markos Dance School in Berlin whilst also detailing the underworldly goings on at that same school.
Diving into the subject at hand: Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 version of Suspiria. Comparisons are going to be hard not to do, seeing as it is basically the same film reimagined and whilst there are differences in tone and character, the basic plot remains intact. The bright, vivid colours that were so prominent and iconic have been almost entirely muted, giving a drab greyness to proceedings. This dampening is not just around the colour either as the performances are middling, barring a few moments of physical acting from Dakota Johnson and brief flashes of brilliance from Tilda Swinton, the rest of the cast do almost nothing of note and are hardly ever brought into focus.
Splitting the story up into 6 chapters and an epilogue disrupts any flow that may have had the chance to build and works actively to slow proceedings down, which is not a great thing in a 150+ minute film. The camerawork of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom fluctuates between exceptional and awkward and feels inconsistent throughout, never truly settling on a style. Further impacting the pace of the developments is the choice to split the story between the dance school, local events in the surrounding area of Berlin and an ongoing investigation by an outsider, a therapist who has potentially fallen onto the discovery of this coven of witches. All these extra elements work to distract and impinge on any build up of tension or atmosphere in the central storyline. Exacerbating this further, the moments outside the dance school actively remove the potential for increasing the claustrophobic, inescapable feeling that the dark and confining school could have had on the viewer.
One thing that I feel did work better than the original was the backstory around the protagonist, Susie. Giving her more context and actually seeing the effect her being there was having on the incumbent residents of the school. That, at least, was really well done however, the progression of this plot, and the culmination, were alternatively too vague and jumped all over the place or far too involved. The climactic ending didn’t work, both in its style being so different from the rest of the film, and in the pacing, suddenly arriving with little to no real build up and then, when you feel it is just starting to get somewhere, rapidly descending into chaos. It almost felt like they ran out of money to film it in the way that the rest of the film was done and went with a pre-production version. Yes, there was plenty of gore in that ending scene but it ended up not being overly gross or disturbing enough to elicit a reaction.
Tilda Swinton, for all the good that she does in almost every film that she is in, was surprisingly low-key as Madame Blanc. Peppering her performance with high notes but never managing to maintain this, either through the script or just because of the disparate storyline taking away the focus. Dakota Johnson, as previously stated, puts in a good performance as Susie but mainly with her physical efforts where she captures the attention. Her screen presence leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t manage to convey the aura required throughout and certainly this is also the case at the climax of the film. The decision to switch between German and English again and again gives rise to a divided film, becoming stuttering and slowing the flow of information and exposition. Mia Goth, in the moments that she gets to spend front and centre, provides more emotional content in her performance than her on-screen best friend.
The one good thing that it has done is give me a greater respect for Argento’s 1977 original. The one scene that had me utterly transfixed and actually caused a reaction in me was the superbly disturbing mirror room-Olga scene. It was exceedingly well done (and apparently all done by an amazing physical performance from trained dancer Elena Fokina) but moments like this were sparse, indeed almost non-existent, throughout the rest of the film. The impressive haunting score by Thom Yorke does add a real sense of mystique to proceedings and no small amount of creepiness but it isn’t able to inject enough atmosphere into what ultimately feels like a schizophrenic film: having too many identities and not enough focus.
To cap it all off, Suspiria isn’t even the best dance-themed horror film of this year as Gaspar Noé’s Climax bested it in both style, dancing and just general WTF-ness.