The past decade-and-change has seen a glut of remakes of horror films from the ’70s and ’80s. Most of them have been quicky cash grabs. Suspiria, to its credit, has a different approach, taking a few elements of Dario Argento’s frightening exercise in the capacity of sound and vision to terrify and incorporating them into an art film.
Unfortunately, while its ambitions may be grander than, say, 2009’s wretched Friday the 13th, that doesn’t mean it’s all that much better of a film.
As in the original, American student Suzy Bannion goes to Europe to train as a dancer, only to find, with her new friend Sara Simms, that the studio is home to a coven of witches led by Helena Markos. There are a handful of other nods to the original, but the similarities mostly end there.
This new Suspiria takes place the year the original film was released, 1977, in Berlin during the German Autumn. While the original movie was largely confined to the dance studio, in this one, the studio is part of the world around it, with the dance instructors and students frequenting restaurants and cafes and speaking of the politics of the day.
That political backdrop is Exhibit A of what is wrong with the film. If it’s supposed to give the film gravitas, it fails miserably, as the viewer has to strain mightily to discern how it gives the events in the coven any larger context or parallels them in any way.
The film runs for 2 1/2 hours, so it wasn’t like they were lacking for time to bring whatever they were trying to say home. And this running time may be the film’s chief mystery. While I wasn’t bored, I certainly wasn’t on the edge of my seat, and at the end, I was left scratching my head at why they needed that much time for a film where only a few events of significance happen. They certainly didn’t use it to explain lots of head-scratching things that go on. For example, why are the girls giving urine samples? And what is the point of Tilda Swinton playing both Madame Blanc and Dr. Josef Klemperer? The characters don’t have any relationship or parallels where that casting makes sense. I could list more.
It would be easy for the faithful to be offended by the film’s take on religion, where Christians are the true evil and goodness comes from some pagan feminist witch mumbo-jumbo, if the film’s take had any internal logic and, frankly, wasn’t so stupid. Christianity is symbolized by evil Mennonites. You have to really hate Christianity to find the Mennonites abhorrent. You also in all likelihood have to have never actually met a Mennonite.
The hubbub about the soundtrack would never have occurred if Thom Yorke of Radiohead had submitted his work anonymously. The two vocal numbers are completely out of place and the score, while perfectly fine, is nothing special and doesn’t hold a candle to Goblin’s astonishing soundtrack for the original.
I rate it two stars despite the long film’s voluminous shortcomings because, (as mentioned above) I wasn’t bored, the cinematography is compelling and achieves precisely what it set out to do, and the film does have some fine performances and striking moments. However, I suspect a lot of people will think I overrated it.