The prospects of remaking a beloved film classic, particularly within the horror genre, are almost always dismissed with unanimous scorn and vitriol. When horror succeeds, it’s usually off of the basis of a core concept or execution that is meant to work once. Any further retellings of that story run the risk of simply regurgitating the same concept that has already been fully utilized elsewhere. For a film as unique as Dario Argento’s 1977 abstract, surrealist cult horror classic Suspiria, a remake basically requires a complete overhaul in style and execution in order to truly set itself apart as its own distinct interpretation, and that is exactly what Luca Guadagnino accomplishes with his bold, unnerving new iteration.
Both the original Suspiria and its 2018 remake follow the story of a young woman (Dakota Johnson) enrolling in a prestigious dance academy, only to be entangled in a series of brutal supernatural murders occurring within the institution. Suspiria, at its core, is less of a coherent narrative and more of an experience of reliving a half-remembered childhood nightmare. Nothing seemed to make any logical sense, and you don’t remember what exactly was going on, but what you vividly remember are the disturbing images and the anxiety that the situations put you through. Guadagnino’s base understanding of this essence of Suspiria is what allows him to experiment in crafting an experience wholly different from Argento’s, but one that strives for, and achieves a greater effect, far beyond even what Argento was able to accomplish.
It speaks to Guadagnino’s pure talent and diverse range as a director that within less than a year of releasing a quiet, beautiful meditation on love and heartbreak with such delicate sensitivity as Call Me By Your Name, he could turn around and produce such a demented, disgusting, and violent descent into blood-soaked, bone-crunching madness as Suspiria. Not only is he able to visibly distinguish the film’s visual style and emotional tonality from his own previous work, but also from the original film that he is remaking. The strikingly colorful neon lighting of Argento’s original is an iconic staple of what Suspiria has become known for, and Guadagnino seems to have been fully aware that in order to truly make this Suspiria his own creative vision, he would have to approach it with a completely different visual style.
Whereas Argento’s vision was painted with bright primary colors, Guadagnino’s is much drabber and muted in its color palette while at the same time not taking away from the beauty of his imagery. In theory, stripping the eye-popping color from a film so contingent on its visual nature might seem detrimental, but in doing so, he is able to create a much more unwelcoming and intimidating atmosphere within the dance academy, which feels much more authentic to what the film’s environment should be than the colorfully arresting setting of Argento’s.
Suspiria has always been a film that fixated far more on its visuals and its atmosphere rather than its narrative or its characters, which would have been an obvious area to improve upon for the remake. Unfortunately, this film is also much more concerned with nailing its visual aesthetic over its characterization, and given how long the film is and the complexities that Guadagnino adds on to this version, it would have been beneficial to devote more time to that aspect in which the original was sorely lacking. In some ways, it is an equally admirable effort to further perfect the same qualities that defined the original in ways that feel almost more abstract and inaccessible to mainstream audiences than the original. It still remains, however, a massive missed opportunity to keep the characterization just as vague and non-descript as the original.
Another integral aspect of Suspiria that the remake also puts its own unique stamp on is its music. Goblin’s iconic score for the original haunts every frame of the original, and Guadagnino was smart enough not to either try to reuse the original’s score or try to create a new iconic theme, which would surely not have held up to the original. He instead employs Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke to compose the soundtrack to create a moody and experimental sound for the film, much like how he utilized the talents of Sufjan Stevens in Call Me By Your Name. Yorke’s melancholy ghost-like vocals paired with the almost soothing instrumentations only further your discomfort. The visuals and music work so congruently with each other which escalate to a boiling point in the final act that is simultaneously horrifying and awe-inspiring, guaranteed to leave you unable to fully comprehend what it is that you have just witnessed, or even how you felt about it.
Suspiria is a rare horror remake that manages to take the elements that made the original so distinct and memorable and improve upon them in ways that differentiate itself from the original while still staying true to what made that film such a beloved classic as it is today. For as niche and abstract as the original Suspiria is, Guadagnino has crafted a version that is possibly even more polarizing and less accessible to mainstream audiences.
It is a film that is undoubtedly excessive in every conceivable capacity including its length, pace, and violence, which will surely turn many viewers away, however, it is also excessive in its creative vision, ambition, and visceral emotion. Suspiria is going to be a tough sell for most moviegoing audiences, and even most hardcore cinephiles might not even be prepared for what they would be getting themselves into with this film, but for those with a deep appreciation of filmmaking craftsmanship, or even those looking for a film experience that will make them feel unclean and depraved, Suspiria is a must-see, even if you can only stomach to see it just once.