Luca Guadagnino made audiences swoon with his ’80s-set gay romance Call Me by Your Name, but raised some eyebrows when it was announced that his next project was a remake (but it’s not really a remake!) of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, Suspiria. Guadagnino claims to have had an extreme emotional response to seeing the film as a teenager, but he hired screenwriter David Kajganich to write the script. Kajganich subsequency admitted that he was not a fan of the original film, and I suspect that’s where the stem of the film’s issues can be found.
The original Argento film isn’t what you would call coherent in a narrative sense, but compared to the 2018 film, it seems like Casablanca in terms of classic cinematic storytelling. The new narrative follows some of the same beats of the original, but quickly falls apart due to being over-complicated and lacking any of the hallucinatory fairytale magic of the original film. The performances, especially Dakota Johnson’s, are as drab as the film’s visual palette. Chloë Grace Moretz appears in the opening, and she would’ve been a far more interesting choice of lead.
Kajganich throws in all this junk about German history, including the Holocaust, the Red Army Fraction, German feminism, and so on, but it adds absolutely nothing to the story and has no depth to its references: it’s pointless ruffles on an already well-made dress. Kajganivch worked on a remake of The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum for years, so it seems like he just dumped all his research for that project into this film for no explicit reason, except that it fits the setting of 1977 Berlin (the original Suspiria was also set in Berlin and came out in ’77.)
The original film also exhibits this extraordinary use of Technicolour (it would end up being one of the last films shot in that format), and with all of the Argento film’s gaps in logic and narrative, that’s what made the film. Guadagnino decided early on to shoot the whole thing like a lesser Fassbinder film (people forget that Fassbinder at his best had visual flourishes that would make most filmmakers blush) with its muted colour palette. The problem is that what people like about Suspiria is the hallucinatory, operatic visuals—Argento is on record as saying “We were trying to reproduce the colour of Walt Disney’s Snow White; it has been said from the beginning that Technicolor lacked subdued shades, [and] was without nuances—like cut-out cartoons.” If you remove the colour from Suspiria, you basically do a huge disservice to the aesthetic of the film, because it’s a prime example of a film that’s only interested in aesthetic.
Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria has been divisive, with some morons claiming it’s better than the original. But as time passes, it’s becoming more clear how much of a misstep the film was. It’s the kind of failure that only a good director can make after becoming a hot property. Argento even panned the film: “it did not excite me, it betrayed the spirit of the original film: there is no fear, there is no music. The film [underwhelmed] me.” The film’s greatest failure is that it’s incredibly poorly paced at a staggering two and a half hours, almost an hour longer than the original film. I do think the failure of the film is more on the shoulders of David Kajganich than Guadagnino, however.
The score by the wonky-eyed singer of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, is also abysmal. I hate Radiohead, but their guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, has proved time and time again that he is a great composer for film… Thom Yorke isn’t in the same league.
The overdue Blu-Ray from Mubi has a series of short making-of featurettes on the disc.