‘Suspiria’ (2018) or — Sighs.
There’s a lot to say about Luca Guadagnino’s remake of ‘Suspiria’ (2018) so, to break it down, let’s look at what the film actually is as well as what the film itself thinks it is.
What the film actually is is the stupidest decision in cinema since D.W. Griffith announced “Let’s make The Clan the good guys!” Seriously, who the hell thinks that what Dario Argento’s Technicolor fever dream masterpiece needed was to be remade but with all the colour drained away, shot so dark you can hardly see what’s going on, have all the set-pieces removed, contain almost NO music (and what music there is should be by that guy from Radiohead because that idea just screams “entertainment”), oh and let’s make it really tedious and boring AND an hour longer than the original. Yeah, that sounds like a great fucking idea!
God, this film is a pretentious slog that fails spectacularly in what it is attempting to achieve. But just what is it attempting to achieve? Certainly not to entertain or scare us in any way whatsoever.
Firstly, the decision to jettison EVERYTHING that made the original work is so insane it feels like a deliberate act of vandalism. Why do this?! Besides, strip everything else away from ‘Suspiria’ — music, colour, design, etc — so only the story is left and you don’t have much because that’s not what these films are, or ever have been, about. I’m a massive fan of Italian genre cinema but do you think I watch these films for the story? No! Nobody does! What maniac does that?! It’s the excess and style that’s the draw. To think the story of ‘Suspiria’ is what it’s all about is missing the point so much it’s like declaring the comic powerhouse of the Marx Brothers was Zeppo. Also the story of ‘Suspiria’ is stupid. Yeah, I said it. I love the original but it’s very, VERY silly. Why else do you think Jessica Harper giggles in the final shot as she walks off camera? Because what she’s been through was utterly daft and bonkers. And Guadagnino’s trying to hang political statements off this?!
Instead, here, we have the story told (badly!) to us of the three Mothers and the coven of witches who lure innocent girls down dark corridors using an Apple Mac screensaver so their plan to… to… I have no idea what their plan is. You see, this is why ‘Suspiria’ is NOT about the story! And this story is told in such a drab, dull, tedious fashion that gives new and unrealised meanings to the word “turgid”. The film is a bore.
So what does the film think it is? For me, what with all the late 70’s Berlin setting with hints at politics and body-horror all in the shadow of the wall then the film it reminded me of the most was Andrzej Zulawski’s ‘Possession’ (1981). Except ‘Possession’ had a specific and personal point to make that resonated precisely with the time it was filmed. ‘Suspiria’ doesn’t, in any way, yet it seems to be reaching for a similar high-brow stance. But again — why? The original wasn’t political or making a point in the slightest. It was about listening to Italian prog-rock and having brightly coloured lights shone in your eyes and that’s it! But no, Guadagnino isn’t happy to make an entertaining genre film. He has higher ideas and ideals. I just have no fucking idea what they are and I don’t think he does either.
Another dropped ball is the humour. There is an undercurrent of comedy here but, like Mother Markos, it’s just too deeply buried. What this also means is that there are times it becomes inadvertently funny. I’d heard the film elsewhere described as “risible”. A bit strong, I thought but no, the movie does have moments that genuinely deserve to be mocked. During the final climax, which is misjudged and stupid beyond believe, I found myself actively laughing at (not with) the film and I did so without the faintest trace of guilt. I have never done that during a film before in my life.
Is there any good stuff in here or some faint potential? A little, I guess. When the film got into the third act and the orgiastic dance sequences started I thought it had the chance to turn into Brian Yuzna’s ‘Society’ (now there’s a horror film with a genuine point!) by way of Merce Cunningham (itself quite an enticing idea if explored). But no, it lumbers on until the movie can figure out new and inventive ways to embarrass itself, which it skilfully does.
Having said all this though, the film didn’t make me angry, which I was surprised at. No, that came over drinks afterwards.
In the pub after we looked over the Notes to the movie that were given out before the screening, although they were less notes and more of a pre-emptive apologetic explanation of the film by the director so yeah, that’s an encouraging sign of faith by the filmmakers in this project. In the notes Guadagnino states that “Everything is political, whether you are aware or unaware.” Really? REALLY?! Christ, that might be the most insufferable statement I’ve ever heard a film director make and I’ve just spent the last three weeks watching the Marxist cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and not even HE said anything that ridiculous or inane!
“Everything is political”? Well I’ll tell you one thing that isn’t political in any way whatsoever — this fucking movie! Seriously, what IS the political point here in this film? Sure, it has politics IN it but it isn’t political and to declare it as such is screamingly pretentious. And that’s when it struck me: Guadagnino hasn’t remade ‘Suspiria’ or even ‘Possession’. No, with the splitting of the film into titled chapters and revolving around a group of young people in a mansion that’s dripping with potential orgiastic slaughter and political pretentions, I have the feeling he thinks he’s Pasolini and has remade ‘Salo’ (1975). Yet for all its artsy, “shocking” imagery the film Guadagnino’s remake has the most in common with is Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Cell’ (2000), another insufferably god-awful piece of bollocks lacking in invention and dripping with pretention.
Also, by tacking on a “political” angle the film inadvertently does the original a massive disservice, implicitly saying it lacked depth and that being pure entertainment somehow wasn’t enough. But it was that stripped down aspect of the horror and Giallo genre that allowed these films to really fly. Why weight it down with all this unnecessary baggage except for the director’s own ego?
It doesn’t matter how you view this version of ‘Suspiria’, either seen as a “remix”, cover-version or its own creature entirely. Whatever way you look at it, it’s an embarrassment. Guadagnino has certainly “reimagined” ‘Suspiria’ but did he have to imagine the most shit version possible? I guess that, in itself, is an achievement. Sighs.