Remake. Reimagining. Retread.
Whatever label viewers wish to slap on Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, it’ll take a remarkable amount of patience and a willingness to ignore narrative (and sometimes visual) incompetence in favor of a few freaky moments to deem the film anything close to “good.”
While Dario Argento’s 1977 original is rife with issues and primed for revision, it at least has the good sense to wrap up within 90 minutes while still gifting moviegoers numerous memorable images and one of cinema’s creepiest scores.
No such brevity nor imagination is on display in Guadagnino’s version, a competently made work that’s undermined by a bizarre haphazard assembly. In a welcome shift from the flat filmmaking of his adored Call Me By Your Name, the director’s camera is frequently in motion, but in ways that jarringly fail to align with the scene at hand and therefore simply call attention to the movement rather than augment the material.
Not helping matters is the dull, occasionally cringeworthy script by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino’s greatest hit), which gets off to a rickety start in 1977 Berlin with hyper-quick edits of incoherent babbling from Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) to German psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer about a local dance school run by witches.
Playing the old man with the aid of makeup and prosthetics is Tilda Swinton, who’s given the pointless assignment of three different characters. (Dr. Strangelove, this is not.) She receives near comparable screen time as Madame Blanc, one of the higher-ups at the aforementioned elite academy where Ohio transplant Susie Bannion (an especially bland Dakota Johnson, inheriting the role from a cameo-making Jessica Harper) comes to fulfill her lifelong ambition of training.
In another odd break from the source material, Kajganich’s screenplay makes no secret of the staff’s commitment to sorcery, deflating a would-be mystery that’s further muddled by Klemperer’s sudden desire to investigate the alleged coven, some half-baked Nazi undertones, and empty flashbacks to Susie’s Amish past.
What little flow that’s established amidst this botched storytelling is undone by abrupt cuts to new chapters with laughably self-serious titles. Nevertheless, a good amount of disturbing imagery rises through the drudgery, as well as a finale with the potential for cheers from midnight movie crowds, yet one that both suffers from arriving at the tail end of a long slog and is shot in a skewed manner that blunts its impact.
Along with the overall wasted opportunity to improve a problematic cult classic and the poor use of Swinton despite the triple part stunt, the much ballyhooed score from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is barely present beyond a haunting early song, and winds up merely another promising detail from an intriguing project that’s destined to soon be forgotten.
Grade: D. Rated R. Starts Nov. 2 at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Amazon Studios)