In the labored new remake of “Suspiria,” an old man (Tilda Swinton under mounds of latex makeup) converses with a pedestrian who says he’s on his way to a lecture by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.
It’s a joke, riffing on Lacan’s post-Freudian pronouncement that “Woman does not exist.” Get it? The “man” in the scene doesn’t really exist, at least not as a man, and if that’s your idea of a knee-slapper, then maybe this Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) version of the 1977 Dario Argento horror classic is for you.
Others may find this eggheaded update a little fusty compared to what, back in the groovy 1970s, was a work of pure inspiration and sensation – and blend of colors, music, and assaultive imagery that still has the power to engage audiences today, and is still a regular at midnight showings around the country.
One doubts that Guadagnino’s movie will have a similar legacy. For one thing, it’s two and a half hours long, so patrons at a midnight show will miss last call and probably won’t be home until at least 3 a.m. And the movie seems even longer – replacing Argento’s splashy colors with dull, chilly greys, and lengthening the story (Argento clocked in at 96 minutes) with layers that feel over overwrought and overthought.
The basic setup is the same – American dance inginue Susie (Dakota Johnson) comes to Berlin in the 1970s to enroll in a legendary dance academy and performing troupe run by the imperious Madame Blanc (also Swinton) and other ladies who may or may not be witches.
Guadagnino, though, has altered the context, bringing the social reality of 1970s Germany much more into the foreground. There are hammered-in references to WWII, the Holocaust, the ongoing activities of the Marxist Baader-Meinhof gang and related terrorist incidents, so we are encouraged to think deep thoughts about the nature of evil, man’s (or woman’s) ongoing capacity for violence, and so forth.
Madame Blanc declares that after WWII, art can no longer be beautiful or cheerful, and restages a piece that she conceived in the immediate aftermath of the war, featuring grim-faced dancers and stabby, brutal movements. It’s not half bad, and it follows an even better sequence of Susie making her first performance, in which every violent move has a deleterious effects on another dancer, trapped in a separate room.
It’s a cool idea, but derivative in its presentation. The bones and joints of the victim get pulled in grotesque directions, an effect (embellished with ripped-tendon sound effects) we’ve seen in countless modern horror movies, where deformed zombies skitter along hallways like spiders and climb walls.
Guadagnino calls particular attention to instruments of torture, so when a dancer gets the hook in this troupe, watch out. Elsewhere, he jabs at us with bursting images of hearts, worms, guts, set to the jolting sounds of the Thom Yorke score. Later, Guadagnino answers the question, what would Jabba the Hutt look like in Ray-Bans? In the end, there’s nothing as chilling as the scene featuring Timothee Chalamet and the peach in “Call Me By Your Name.”
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