“It’s a mess, isn’t it?” Dynamite drop-in, Susie.
Set in 1977 Berlin during the “German Autumn,” a young dancer named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) barges in on Dr. Josef Klemperer (“Lutz Ebersdorf”) over what he perceives to be a paranoid delusion, her claiming the matrons at The Markos Dance Company wish her ill. Noting the absence of young Patricia, the aforementioned company entertains a new recruit: Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a Mennonite from Ohio drawn to dancer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and desperate to join her troupe. With nothing in the way of references, Susie captivates Blanc in her debut tryout, earning Susie a sudden promotion to protagonist for a production of “Volk.” While the company matrons may have sinister designs upon all of their young dancers, they may also have bitten off more than they can chew.
A female empowerment story that’s not exactly feminist, director Luca Guadagnino takes on Dario Argento’s classic 1977 film Suspiria as a remake for Amazon Studios. The big reveal of the original film is a given in the rework (necessary spoiler: actual witchcraft is afoot at the all-woman company), allowing further exploration of themes and symbolism throughout. Adding a full hour to the ninety-minute original film’s running length and an entire subplot involving Dr. Klemperer, does this new take on the story add to the existing hysteria or merely muddle what has already gone before?
The idea here is attempted transformation, both in character and in film; Dakota Johnson takes Susie from innocence to capability while dragging the film along with it. The result is a beautiful train wreck — stretched to the length of disinterest — with a final explanation claiming the train needed to wreck. The film successfully builds tension, but the payoff gleefully self-flagellates itself into exhaustive pointlessness. Had it been shorter, a subplot less, or both these things, it would have again become what inspired it — a clear case of never needing to have bothered in the first place.
Revealing the supernatural component early does allow for a rich production design (always a plus), from secret catacombs and hook-like weapons to the state of missing victims… all of which defy a hint of explanation. Viewers knowledgeable in occult lore and the traditional giveaway clues to unnatural happenings will be at a loss here for anything specific. Who are all the victims? Why organize the dances for an audience and travel the world? What do these witches even actually do? The lack of specificity undermines the entire concept; while the ideas of feminine power and sexuality are touched upon — even including a scene dedicated solely for the ridicule of men in power — these witches seem more intent upon destroying themselves than joining forces for anything more sinister: a snake eating its own tail.
Overachiever Tilda Swinton actually takes on three different character roles (it isn’t too difficult figuring out which other two are also her) in addition to Madame Blanc, and while Mia Goth’s Sara has an important role to play, it’s fleeting at best. Sadly, Chloë Grace Moretz’s contribution is little more than a portent, and with the relentless backdrop of a terrorist hijacking, the looming Berlin Wall, and a despairing widower, these connections to the goings-on all seem equally meaningless. These revealed witches just “are”… and that seems quite a waste of effort. At least it’s better than Hereditary, right?
Suspiria 2018 is rated R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, some language including sexual references, and one old man’s fake johnson.
One skull recommendation out of four