The reviews are in for Luca Guadagnino’s elaborate remake of the 1977 horror classic Suspiria, and critics are scratching their heads.
The Italian director’s reinterpretation, which projects onscreen as a horror-filled dream, centers on a mysterious dance academy — with Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Angela Winkler among the faculty and students. Upon release of the trailer, the film sparked buzz online, with one theory speculating that Swinton donned prosthetics to assume the fake persona of Lutz Ebersdorf, credited as playing the role of a German psychotherapist.
Despite the considerable ambition of the horror remake, Guadagnino’s new version failed to bewitch the critics.
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter found the film “unnecessarily drawn out” and consisting of “too many discursive shifts to build much tension.” Though he salutes Swinton and Winkler as “marvelous,” Roonet 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,” the critic 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 the remake is a “head-scratcher” and Guadagnino’sapproach is “more muted in both palette and tone, opting for insidious weirdness over shock and gore.”
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian was also unimpressed, dismissing the film as “weirdly passionless” and possessing a “muddled” narrative that is more suited to be categorized as an “MA thesis” than a remake. While noting that Guadagnino’s “reverence for the original” is evident — the director delivers “smart moments of fear” and “subliminal shivers of disquiet” — the “spark of pure diabolical craziness of Argento” is gone, with “indigestible new layers of historical meaning added.”
Focusing on characterization, Bradshaw writes that Swinton’s performance is “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, he praises Johnson (“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 also questioned whether or not the new film is a remake; calling it “an estranged sibling” to the original, where “only by drawing some blood” can moviegoers establish a relation between the two. Nonetheless, he writes that the film “offers a richer, more explicit interpretation of that old nightmare,” likening Guadagnino’s 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,” writes the critic, who 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 writes that it is not the actors’ fault for the remake being “bland” but rather the director for being “tripped up by his own ambitions.” “He has made the plot and the setting insanely complicated,” according to Zacharek, also adding that the leads and supporting roles simply “do all that is asked of them.” Gaudagnino set the film in 1977 Berlin, but she notes that the additional historical element fails to become 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.
The ciritc also adds that the film is not as scary as moviegoers may believe. It 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 criticizes Guadagnino’s film as being a “feast of excess” that simply “tries to do too much,” which ultimately will deny the director the same praise he drew for Call Me by Your Name. Though the fillmaker “reaches for greatness,” 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,” the remake can still be considered “equally disturbing” without precisely emulating the original’s narrative and soundtrack (from Radiohead frontman Yorke)
“Suspiria tries to do much, culminating in a finale that’s almost laughably over-the-top,” writes Grierson, who 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, she 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 considers the director’s take on “gorgeous,” but wishes “there were more stories about women by women that were emboldened to be this unsettling.”
Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com also takes aim at Guadagnino, warning fans of Call Me by Your Name to look elsewhere: The remake is “pretentious,” and ‘repellent” for inspiring a “brand of misogyny.” He also chastises the film for 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.
The critic also blasts Guadagnino for using his “complete artistic freedom for the purpose of flaunting his absolute lack of artistic conviction.” Kenny adds: “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.