Excavated cult-horror film Suspiria is an ambitious failure

by James Robins / 14 November, 2018
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Released in 1977, Dario Argento’s campy Suspiria was a landmark in cult horror. Now, director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, A Bigger Splash) has remade it in a new style, swapping its hysterical psychedelia for the concrete grey and fatigue khaki of a Germany divided between East and West. He excavates the bones of Argento’s film, but not the flesh.

It sees naive and doe-eyed American Susie (Dakota Johnson) audition to join a contemporary dance company in drizzly Berlin, overseen by Madame Blanc, a gaunt but graceful matriarch played by Tilda Swinton (one of her three roles in the film). The company is also home to a coven of witches. They were figures of terror in the original, though here they are more seductive and complex, as witches ought to be.

The score is written by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and his mournful piano arpeggios provide an air of melancholy rather than dread. This is because, save for one grotesque and nearly unendurable bit of choreography, Suspiria is less an outright horror film than an examination of German history: there are mentions of the Nazi-era Theresienstadt concentration camp and the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Yet these are mere clues. Guadagnino’s Suspiria has barely any internal coherence. It seems rammed with potent meanings, but there is no key to unlock its secrets. It remains defiantly enigmatic, inexplicable, even. An ambitious and frustrating failure.

Video: Amazon Studios

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★★1/2

This article was first published in the November 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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