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  • Megan Millisky

"Suspiria" and the Culture of Remakes

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Dakota Johnson as Susie in "Suspiria". Photo from IMDB.
The classic horror film Suspiria (1977) is a masterclass in witchcraft and terror. Could a new Suspiria in 2018 ever live up to its predecessor's legacy?

The creeping, occasionally terrifying Suspiria—the 2018 one, not the classic 1977 Dario Argento film—is a fresh, lovely adaptation that really needn’t have been named after the original. With it’s own voice and stand-apart cinematography, Suspiria (2018) is a classic in its own right.

In general, remakes make me very uncomfortable. I’ve always found it unsettling to pluck out a movie that is “old enough” to remake for the sake of utilizing a built in audience. Since the original Suspiria is a 41 year old cult classic, it was just a matter of time before it got green-lit for a reboot.

Remakes range from great tributes to disrespectful money grabs. If imitation is flattery then replication is nit-picking and competitive. As a recent example, Disney's trailer for the shot-for-shot remake of The Lion King brought a wave of giddy comparisons from fans new and old. For many, it also brought the sinking realization that the vibrancy and absolute brilliance of the original's animation had been replaced with bland CGI animals.

I'm in the minority here as the reaction to the trailer was mainly positive and is currently the most viewed debut trailer ever. Nostalgia sells—remakes are very popular at the box office. What could be better than a built-in audience who already knows what to expect from a movie? What do moviegoers love more than warm, fuzzy reminders of films from the past?

A regurgitation of Argento nostalgia Suspiria (2018) is not; but rather it is a fresh, revering adjacency to the universe of Suspiria (1977). Nearly everything else in the film is uniquely the vision of director Luca Guadagnino and screenplay writer David Kajganich. Minus the harsh, flashy colors of its 1977 predecessor, Guadagnino’s version incorporates striking and detailed costumes, choreography, and character design that drive the movie forward.

The role of Susie, the innocent new dance student, is entrusted to 50 Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson. Johnson’s performance with a chilly, subdued Tilda Swinton (in a triad roles as dance academy teachers Madame Blanc and Helena Markos, and male psychologist Dr. Josef Klemperer) is compelling and sexually electrifying. Susie arrives unannounced to the dance studio and is allowed to audition for the dance instructors, including Madame Blanc, the school's revered choreographer. Blanc is impressed and takes Susie under her wing. The two grow close amidst increasingly gruesome occurrences at the dance school, leaving no one safe from the wrath of the company's teachers.

Crisp cinematography and an intense score make the movie a joy to watch. Expert choreography allows each individual dancer to shine in their role and offers commentary on the toll dancing takes on the body (certainly channeling Black Swan in that regard). Guadagnino sticks with a color palette of neutrals and fiery reds as homage to Argento. The dancer's costumes and makeup become wilder with the progression of Susie's mental state as other dancers are struck down.

Dakota Johnson (L) and Mia Goth (R) in "Suspiria". Photo from IMDB.

The film’s ethnic nationalism subtext never materializes into a solid moral lesson, although it is interesting to see the movie echo the recurrence of anti-Semitism currently plaguing the United States. It is not immediately obvious how it plays into the story aside from grounding the film in a reality with consequences, but the dancers and teachers are mainly isolated from this established "real world."

The gorgeous ambition of Suspiria (2018) gives me hope for future remakes (except for maybe The Lion King (2019)). I can't help but wonder what the film might have looked like if Guadagnino wasn't confined to the story structure of the original, and was free to craft a horror film from scratch. Hopefully his future as a director will answer that question for me.

The film is reminiscent of the original, but its uniqueness feels less like a Suspiria remake and more like a bold statement how great a remake can be when it isn't shot-for-shot, when it doesn't care about catering to the nostalgic whims of fans. Maybe what fans need isn't decades-old nostalgia. Maybe what we really need is simply something new.

Rating: 7.5/10

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