Much like Dario Argento’s film, this new Suspiria is meant to be experienced rather than just seen or heard. Suspiria needs to be felt in order to be understood, and that is something that extends beyond sight and sound. One of my biggest complaints about the original was how little dancing actually happened in a film that takes place in a school for dance. Dancing has always been had a profoundly symbolic role in the Wiccan religion, so having it woefully underplayed in Argento’s film was a bit of a disappointment. Director Luca Guadagnino remedies that by incorporating the dance element throughout the entire film, but not without a cost.
Aside from the monumentally talented cast, the film greatly benefits from the use of dance as a storytelling device. Viewing any of Guadagnino’s films will reveal that he is a visual storyteller, subscribing to the idea that exposition is more potent and effective when it is shown to the audience rather than explained to them through dialogue. The choreography in Suspiria is mesmerizing, equal parts primal and eloquent. Once the movement starts, our attention is immediately captured as if a spell were cast upon us. This is the most important aspect of this remake because, without it, no one would be awake to watch the climactic ending.
Incorporating a completely new element, or even altering the story to deliver a timely, relevant message are among the few circumstances in which a film could/should be remade. The addition of several dance sequences not only adds visual flair to the film, but writer David Kajganich’s incorporation of them as part of the story is a stroke of genius that would make Argento himself jealous. Unfortunately, the film’s strength is a double-edged sword because it makes the many weaknesses that much more apparent. The problem with heavy visual storytelling is that it does take longer to tell the story. Where Kajganich could easily write some dialogue between two characters explaining situations and motivations, Guadagnino would rather take you on a vague journey where you collect background details and read character expressions. Personally, I usually enjoy the latter, but at a staggering 150 minutes, this film shows us a lot but usually has very little to say.
The original Suspiria kept a consistent pace, building mystery and suspense, but never meandering into unnecessary details. The remake takes a different, scenic approach that favors wandering over brevity. Without the moments of action, Suspiria ends up feeling like an on-foot sightseeing tour: if you’re not seeing something interesting or engaging, the fact that you’re just walking around becomes painfully/tediously obvious. Every moment in between the enthralling dance sequences feels like an unnecessary placeholder, especially with how much it negatively impacts the pacing. The film’s pacing can best be described as unstable, going from manic to mellow at the drop of a hat. The only thing that helps you get through those rough transitions is Thom Yorke’s hauntingly hypnotic soundtracking throughout.
The deep pool of talent is in large part responsible for the film’s hexing charm. Relying on wordless interactions to tell the story is a major risk, but Guadagnino enlists the help of seasoned professionals, many of which he has worked with in the past. Chloë Grace Moretz, Mia Goth, and Angela Winkler each deliver dynamic performances in their supporting roles, while Tilda Swinton, ever the effortless scene-stealer, is magnetic in her multiple roles. In every coven, there can be only one supreme, and in Suspiria, Dakota Johnson commands your attention. Johnson brings forth ferociously kinetic energy that we had yet to see from her. As our unreliable lead character, we are rarely ever told what is going through her mind and yet Johnson is able to project a myriad of emotions with just a look. We see her characters longing, her desire, her burning passion, and all with a deep intensity that makes 50 Shades of Grey seem like a parody of itself.
Suspiria is a ravishing, frenetic fever dream that flounders dangerously close to turning into a cinematic nightmare. There are many half-developed ideas throughout the film that touch on a range of topics from the evils of man to remembering the pain history has taught. There is even a potential allusion to Trump when the film tackles the idea of overthrowing false, toxic leaders. Even with the many missteps, Suspiria is still a sinister soirée you’ll be dying to attend, even if the party goes on much longer than it should.