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Suspiria (2018) Movie Review

Suspiria (2018) movie poster Suspiria (2018)

Theatrical Release: October 26, 2018 / Running Time: 152 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Luca Guadagnino / Writers: David Kajganich (screenplay); Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi (characters)

Cast: Dakota Johnson (Susie Bannion), Tilda Swinton (Madame Blanc, Mother Helena Markos), Mia Goth (Sara Simms), Sylvie Testud (Miss Griffith), Lutz Ebersdorf (Dr. Josef Klemperer), Jessica Harper (Anke Meier), Chloë Grace Moretz (Patricia Hingle), Angela Winkler (Miss Tanner), Ingrid Caven (Miss Vendegast), Elena Fokina (Olga), Renée Soutendijk (Miss Huller), Christine Leboutte (Miss Balfour), Fabrizia Sacchi (Pavla), Malgosia Bela (Susie's Mother, Death)


You assume Italian director Luca Guadagnino could do just about anything after all the praise lavished upon Call Me By Your Name. That fact makes his chosen follow-up, a remake of a 40-year-old Dario Argento film, a bit curious.
The source for Suspiria has none of the built-in commercial value that helped the new Halloween soar. At the same time, Argento's Italian original is revered enough to make Guadagnino be judged harshly by that passionate, often critical demographic of horror fans.

Any concern raised by the genre that the director might be compromising his arthouse cred for a mindless payday disappear immediately here. This is as artistic a horror movie as I've seen. We open in 1977 Berlin, where the distressed young Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) is informing her psychiatrist Josef Klemperer ("Lutz Ebersdorf") all about the terrible, frightening things she is experiencing at her prestigious ballet school. They sound like the delusions of a paranoid woman losing her mind, but as you might suspect these claims are not baseless.

Our attention soon turns to Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who arrives from Ohio to enroll at the same Markos Dance Academy, where she has an opportunity to audition. Susie turns heads quickly, even that of the respected, enigmatic choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Susie wastes no time to rise the ranks at the school, quickly volunteering to take on the lead role of a new piece Madame Blanc has developed.

Dakota Johnson plays protagonist Susie Bannion, an Ohio girl who has just come to Berlin to enroll in a prestigious ballet academy.

It's a tall challenge but one that quiet redhead Susie swiftly shows she is up to, with her perfect, precise movements. Those movements have unimaginable consequences for a classmate who has stormed out in a huff calling the staff witches. That classmate was on to something and so is aging Dr. Klemperer, who checks out the academy on his own after alerting authorities to the occult dangers allegedly within, which they see no evidence of.

Most of Suspiria's substantial 152-minute runtime goes to developing the academy as this dark, sordid place of mystery. This is where the atmospheric movie excels, as it lets us know something is up but takes its sweet time to unravel what it is. Finally, all answers come in a showstopping scene that nearly concludes the film. It is this scene where the "psychological thriller" designation that seemed pretty suitable until now goes out the window. Over-the-top is a fair description of it and one also gets the sense that it is here where this version most closely resembles its predecessor.

Suspiria gives open-minded viewers much to feast on visually and dramatically. Argento's version ran just 98 minutes, so Guadagnino and American screenwriter David Kajganich, who last teamed with him on 2015's A Bigger Splash, must add a lot of their own ideas to this. Though unable to compare the two, I can without hesitation declare this new take a success on its own merits. It recalls Black Swan thematically and will draw those comparisons from viewers who are more likely familiar with that than the original movie.

Tilda Swinton plays academy choreographer Madame Blanc, among other roles...

Undoubtedly, some will object to an English language remake of a giallo landmark on principle, considering this to be sacrilege sight unseen. They will be missing out on one of the year's best horror films, though; something that tells a coherent story supremely well and actually gets under your skin and without the same kind of disbelief required of A Quiet Place, the only genre entry of 2018 that I'd rank above this.

Far from the step back it sounds like on paper, this satisfying remake solidifies Guadagnino as a visionary. His Suspiria has the craftmanship of a Guillermo del Toro movie without production design overpowering narrative. It's as much of an epic as the genre allows for and it boasts what are sure to rank among the finest performances of its cast. That cast includes someone
I thought was a great discovery in Ebersdorf, though the truth about this supposed octogenarian German actor with no prior film credits to his name has emerged in recent days. I don't want to be the one to "spoil" that now open secret if you haven't already either learned or deduced what I'm talking about. Suffice it to say, that unrecognizable secondary performance elevates the work of one cast member to lofty heights.

One area where Suspiria faces a challenge is in finding an audience. Horror is a perennial staple in the business, a genre whose generally low budgets usually yield profit. With a budget of $20 million, this production isn't all that cheap for the genre, plus it has the added obstacle of being released by Amazon Studios, who has yet to find their footing as a distributor, with all of their first four titles flopping. Instead of going wide and potentially dying immediately like Life Itself did in September, the studio opted to unspool the film in just two theaters last weekend and will slowly add to that as buzz builds. The opening weekend approach worked to the extent that Suspiria now ranks among the biggest per-theater averages in history. That doesn't mean a lot, because for every movie that converted that big splash into blockbuster numbers (e.g. La La Land, Lion King, and American Sniper), there is one whose debut led to underperformance in expansion (e.g. Steve Jobs, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Master). If you would like to see more artistry and ambition in horror, then this is one to support.

Related Reviews:
Directed by Luca Guadagnino: Call Me By Your NameA Bigger Splash
Now in Theaters: HalloweenBeautiful BoyBad Times at the El Royale
Dakota Johnson: How to Be SingleBlack Mass | Tilda Swinton: Only Lovers Left AliveDoctor StrangeThe Grand Budapest Hotel
Chloë Grace Moretz: Let Me InDark ShadowsHugo
2018 Horror Movies: A Quiet PlaceHereditaryMandyThe Nun
Halloween (1978) • The ShiningI Spit on Your Grave (1978) • Rosemary's BabyAutumn Sonata

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Reviewed October 31, 2018.

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