‘Suspiria’: What the Critics Are Saying
How does Luca Guadagnino’s remake compare to the 1977 original? Critics give their take.
The reviews are in for Luca Guadagnino’s elaborate remake of the horror classic Suspiria, and critics are scratching their heads.
The Italian director reinterprets the 1977 original centered around a mysterious dance academy — with Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Angela Winkler starring as students and faculty — that projects onscreen as a horror-filled dream. Upon the release of the trailer, the film already sparked buzz among audiences, with an internet fanboy theory that Swinton simultaneously dons heavy prosthetics to take on the fake persona of Lutz Ebersdorf, credited as paying the role of a German psychotherapist.
Despite the considerable ambition of the horror remake, critics failed to be bewitched by Guadagnino’s new version.
David Rooney’s take for The Hollywood Reporter critiques the film as being “unnecessarily drawn out” and consisting of “too many discursive shifts to build much tension.” Though he calls Swinton and Winkler “marvelous,” the reviewer calls most of the remaining featured roles “insufficiently individualized” to make them more than “an arch sisterhood distinguishable only by looks.”
Despite judging the film to be “aesthetically striking,” Rooney writes that the remake “remains distancing” and Guadagnino’s “ambitious homage” doesn’t “benefit from its more intellectualized gaze,” ultimately failing to measure up to the original cult movie. Overall Rooney writes that Guadagnino’s remake is a “head- scratcher” and his approach is “more muted in both palette and tone, “opting for insidious weirdness over shock and gore.”
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian was also unimpressed with the film, dubbing it as “weirdly passionless” and having a “muddled” narrative focus that is more suited to be categorized as an “MA thesis” than a remake. Though writing that Guadagnino’s “reverence for the original” is evident — with the director incorporating “smart moments of fear” and “subliminal shivers of disquiet” — Bradshaw writes that the “spark of pure diabolical craziness of Argento” is gone with “indigestible new layers of historical meaning added” instead.
Focusing on characterization, Bradshaw found Swinton’s performance “a bit wasted” for “her character is anti-climactically written so that she delivers neither a payload of evil, nor a redemptive moral rescue, nor anything interesting in between.” Meanwhile, Bradshaw credited Johnson as being “very good” but was disappointed that the actress failed to have as much of a presence in the film as she could have.
Indiewire’s David Ehrlich shared the same sentiments in not perceiving the film as a remake but rather as “an estranged sibling” to the original where “only by drawing some blood” can moviegoers notice a relation between the two. Nonetheless, Ehrlich writes that the film “offers a richer, more explicit interpretation of that old nightmare” where he likens Guadagnino touching on the original’s anxieties to “picking at a scab.” With the film being pegged as horror, Ehrlich describes it as “more gross” than creepy and “more elegiac than it is gross.”
“Guadagnino’s wicked opus ultimately cares more about the scars it leaves behind than it does the violence that caused them, or might cut them open again,” Ehrlich writes. He also warns that “anyone who thought the Call Me By Your Name guy was going to make a movie that felt like The Conjuring” will be “sorely disappointed with this orgiastic riff on The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant.”
Continuing to chastise Guadagnino, Stephanie Zacharek of TIME Magazine writes that it is not the actors’ fault for the remake being “bland” but rather Guadagnino for being “tripped up by his own ambitions.” “He has made the plot and the setting insanely complicated,” critiques Zacharek, also adding that the leads and supporting roles simply “do all that is asked of them.” Gaudagnino sets the film in 1977 Berlin, but Zacharek notes that the additional factor fails to make the historical elements an “integral part of the story.” “The political backdrop is an extra layer of needless complication. Guadagnino is thinking too much and feeling too little,” criticizes Zacharek.
Zacharek also adds that the film is not as scary as moviegoers may believe. According to Zacharek the film could’ve benefited from showcasing a “more vibrant color palette” that can distract from the “suitably chilly” music by (Thom) Yorke and “grand”costumes donned by the cast. Despite starring Swinton, Zacharek notes that “not even her powers are enough to reanimate the gray corpse of this Suspiria.”
Screen Daily’s Tim Grierson also criticized Guadagnino’s film as being a “feast of excess” that simply “tries to do too much”, which ultimately will result in the director failing to receive the praise he drew with Call Me By Your Name. Though the director “reaches for greatness,” Grierson says that the “whirlwind of that effort is sometimes more stunning than the execution.” However, Grierson does positively note that the remake expands the “original’s scope” by focusing more on character dynamics rather than hiding its dark revelations. Despite the film being more “muted and leisurely paced,” Grierson writes that the remake can still be considered “equally disturbing” without precisely emulating the original’s narrative and soundtrack (which is now written by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke)
“Suspiria tries to do much, culminating in a finale that’s almost laughably over-the-top,” writes Grierson, but adds, “Consequently, Guadagnino pays the ultimate compliment to Argento: rather than slavishly reproducing Suspiria, he reimagines it from his own perspective, finding a new way to submerge the viewer in a lurid dream state.”
On the other hand Emily Yoshida of Vulture writes that she wishes a woman helmed the film rather than Guadagnino, predicting that the director will face backlash for his representation of his female characters amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up era. “I wish a woman had been empowered and/or inspired to take a crack at Dario Argento’s iconic but deeply flawed witch tale,” Yoshida writes, though she does compliment Guadagnino’s “grotesque, political, radically feminine interpretation.”
“I wish that more female filmmakers were making this kind of work at this level, tales that go beyond simple empowerment and voice-giving and live in the chaotic, ambiguous, messy and biological realm that should be the antithesis of patriarchal cinema,” writes Yoshida. Guadagnino, Yoshida predicts, could potentially be criticized for projecting an “anti-woman film” being that his female character’s “bodies” and “collective energy” are portrayed as being something to be “dreaded or cursed.” Nonetheless, Yoshida still considers the director’s take on the classic “gorgeous,” but wishes ” there were more stories about women by women that were emboldened to be this unsettling.”
Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com also took aim at Guadagnino, warning fans of Call Me By Your Name to look elsewhere. Kenny writes that he viewed the remake as “pretentious” and ‘repellent” for inspiring a “brand of misogyny.” He also chastises the film as having “excessive horror imagery” that is thrown up with “giggly glee.” “Whatever you think of Argento’s Suspiria, or his work overall, you have to admit that his morbid sadism appears to arise from an authentic impulse,” Kenny writes, giving credit to the original.
Meanwhile Kenny again criticizes Guadagnino for using his “complete artistic freedom for the purpose of flaunting his absolute lack of artistic conviction.” Also adding, “It’s too bad for my purposes that I didn’t out-and-out hate Call Me by Your Name, because if I had, I could say in addition to that that if you loved Call Me by Your Name, you deserve Suspiria.