Tuesday, November 13, 2018

SUSPIRIA (2018) movie review

Suspiria (2018) d. Luca Guadagnino (Italy/USA) (152 min.)

When I heard that Dario Argento’s masterpiece concerning a coven of witches holding sway over an acclaimed German dance academy was being remade, I was not overly offended due to the fact that the 1977 film is so very much an exercise in style and WTF-ery. Like the ballet school at its center, the movie’s framework is but a front, an opportunity to let imagination run wild and not concern oneself with plot or character so much as the next eye-popping set-piece waiting in the wings. No one was going to try to out-Argento Argento, so I was looking forward to seeing what the inherent black magic plotline might entail.

Unfortunately, this iteration of Suspiria and its creators clearly want so badly to be taken seriously as a film tres prestigieux that it forgets its true purpose: maintaining interest and entertaining viewers. Yes, there are memorable moments amidst the handsome production values, but the glacial pacing, meandering narrative, and distant performances kept the phrase “art-house twaddle” reverberating in my head. As fascinating a performer as Tilda Swinton is, she’s given little to do in the key role of Madame Blanc except fix her unwavering gaze upon her lithe and limber charges, intoning abstruse lines with great import. As Susie Bannion, our ostensible lead, Dakota Johnson tries in vain to be mysterious, instead coming off as a shallow and empty vessel (no wonder the witches want her); perhaps that’s what Guadagnino was going for, but it doesn't make it any more compelling for the audience.

Akin to Mandy, i.e. that other exercise in self-indulgence currently earning a lot of goodwill amidst the horror faithful, there is a praiseworthy two-hour movie to be culled from the 152-minute running time. (Say what you will about Argento’s nonsensical plotting and bizarre touches, his picture MOVES.) Any sense of tension is dissipated by scenes that all go on… and on… and on. Even the scenes of horror (yes, there are a few) become redundant, losing all dramatic power, stretched out and saggy like an overused rubber band.

Then there’s the Dr. Klemperer character.

Since screenwriter David Kajganich elects not to have Susie attempting to uncover the mystery from within the academy, a “detective” character is required, one attempting to reveal what's happening for the audiences sake. Presumably by design, our “hero” here is a feeble old man, whom we suspect may not be up to the task at hand. After all, he can barely get down the street with his shuffling, limping gait. Nevertheless, he’s all we’ve got, so we align our sympathies and hope for the best. In a shorter, tighter-edited version of the piece, such dramatic tension might actually pay off. But since Guadagnino is in no great hurry and Kajganich is busy weaving other threads, we forget that Klemperer is even carrying on an investigation until the film cuts back to him and reminds us: “Oh, thats right. Hes still in the movie.”

There is some emotional weight to be gleaned from Klemperer; we are intended to empathize with his efforts to do a good thing, atoning for his lack of action in the past (oh, yes, there is backstory and lots of it), but the pacing does us no favors in this regard. One might wonder, “Why are we giving so much attention to this seemingly incidental character,” to which I offer the two-word reply: “Stunt. Casting.” (I’ll let you figure that one out on your own, since it was one of the few surprises to be had, but if youve been following the internet at all, you probably already know what Im talking about.)

Art. House. Twaddle.

Meanwhile, it's never shown what the hell our witches are actually doing, if they are good or bad, etc. They simply seem to be preoccupied with being witches (and dining in restaurants, drinking wine, and occasionally in-fighting about who's running the show). In a 2.5 hour movie, it might be helpful if at some point we know what the intent of our focal group of dramatic characters is, i.e. WHAT THEY WANT. By comparison, I don't know that we know what they are doing in the Argento flick, but we at least have dogs tearing people's throats out and rooms full of razor-wire to distract us.

Again drawing comparisons to Mandy, I think Suspiria 2018 is a movie with much to appreciate on repeat viewings (and to be fair, it took me several to “get” the original), with expectations properly managed and knowing what one is in for. On a first go-round, however, it simply feels like too many tiers on an epic wedding cake, designed to impress and mystify rather than satisfy.


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