Wednesday, January 23, 2019

SUSPIRIA (2018) (Lionsgate Blu-ray Review)

SUSPIRIA (2018) 

Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 152 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Luca Gudagnino
Cast: Dakota Johnso,  Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz

Re-imagining Dario Argento's psychedelic witch nightmare Suspiria (1977) is no enviable endeavor, a original is a bonafide classic about a coven of witches running an all-girl dance academy in Germany that is a surreal slice of visual horror, easily one of my favorite films of all-time. That said the original is a film that I think anyone would agree is a film that visual pushes style over narrative substance, the plot is threadbare, and it's this opening where Italian director Luca Guadagnino's re-imaging seems to be living in, fleshing out the story and throwing in some witchy curve balls that really make this movie it's own sort of thing, which is exactly why some will hate it while other, like myself, will enjoy it immensely. 

The basic premise of the story is the same, we have a young American dancer named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, Bad Times at the El Royale) arriving in Germany in 1977 to audition for the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in the West Berlin, despite having no formal training she wows the school's famed lead choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, Orlando), which earns her a spot in the academy dance troupe.   

Right from the start we are also introduced to Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass), another student at the academy, she's a bit unhinged and is seen visiting her therapist Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, in the second of three roles!) and speaking about how she believes the school of dance is run by a coven of witches whom have pledged allegiance to The Three Mothers; the Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mother Suspiriorum. The Hingle girls not around long, witches don't like tattlers, but strangely Dr. Klemperer figures largely into the continuing story, eventually investigating the young girl's claims about the school, but only after she goes missing. We get quite a bit of his back story involving his missing wife whom he believes perished during the Holocaust, it haunts him, with his wife being portrayed by Susipira '77 alum Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise)

In a lot of ways this movie is very anti-Suspiria in nature, eschewing the vibrant colors of the original with muted browns, as where the witches were kept to a minimum in Argento's version here we get right into the politics of coven, including a power struggle between the founder, Mother Helena Markos (Swinton, in her third role in the film), and the dance which is never really seen in the original film an integral part of this film. The art of the remake is difficult, stay too true to the original and why bother remaking it, stray too far and the fans will turn on you, it's a seemingly thankless enterprise, so I applaud Gudagnino and the screenwriters for going their own way with his re-imagining.

It's got oodles of style with cool architecture and lensing, the colors are very drab, but it does have a witchy flair about it. The thing that will hamstring this for some viewers is the pretentious arthouse leanings, like those chapter title carsd. I love me some arthouse horror, but the austere design coupled with a nearly-three hour run time might push the boundaries for the more casual viewer. Argento's original despite some threadbare potting was a fast-mover, a film that bombarded you with thrilling visuals drenched in an enthralling score from Goblin. This is more drawn out, a very slow-burning film punctuated with some dazzling set pieces, one featuring Susie performing a magic-infused dance in one room, in the room next to her another student who has just quit the school after calling the instructors witches is seen reacting to Susie's dance, being contorted and twisted in a grotesque manner, magically receiving the violent blows of the enchanted dancer in the next room, her bones snapping, her body horribly contorted, her jaw dislocated, it's an awful looking effect and is very well done. 

Back to the more meandering parts of the film we have Dr. Klemperer as played by Swinton, the androgynous actress covered in loads of latex and old age make-up, there's an uncanny element to it that pulled me right out of the film whenever the character was onscreen, and by the end of the film I didn't actually see the need for the character at all. It does provide some tragic heart to the story but I don't think the film needed it, it feels very extraneous, as does a sub plot about the divided Berlin and terrorist happenings around the city. 

Swinton also plays the witchy old had Helena Markos, a saggy fleshed cackling witch who is little seen till the finale, and her performance her is just fine, but Swinton's main role as Madame Blanc is quite good, her bonding with ingenue Susie is good stuff, Dakota Johnson is sort of an empty vessel in a way, which suits the character and her intended fate. Her dancing looked pretty great to my untrained eye, all the dancing here is well done and shot well, I am no expert but it all looked solid to me, and I loved how all the dancing figures into the witchery of it all, especially in the bloody and gore-soaked finale. A few other elements I enjoyed were the use of these creepy needle-hooks by the witches, and seeing Renée Soutendijk (Eve Of Destruction) as one of the witches!

Suspiria (2018) is a sprawling, convoluted re-imagining of the original story, I like elements it adds, I love the dance aspects and the politics of the coven, I enjoyed the surprise of the finale, but I didn't love everything about it. Swinton's three-character stunt casting is absolutely unnecessary, as is the nearly three-hour duration and numerous plot threads that go absolutely nowhere, it could have been streamlined and moved along at a better clip, but I still enjoyed the movie as a whole, and recommend it. 

Audio/Video: Suspiria (2018) arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, looking very solid. The film lacks the technicolor nightmare coloring of the Argento original, with a muted scheme that favors the browns, but the Blu-ray handles it well, a crisp, defined presentation with good contrast and color saturation, and the black are generally very good throughout. The Dolby Atmos 7.1 surround  offers a robust auditory experience with good separation, the low-key, ethereal Thom Yorke (Radiohead) score sounds excellent. 

Extras come by way of three brief  featurettes exploring the score, FX and making of, nothing too deep or revealing here, very basic stuff, kind of a sad set of extras for such a sprawling film. The single disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork and a slipcover with the same artwork as the sleeve. Inside there's a redemption code for a digital copy of the film.     

Special Features: 
- The Making of Suspiria (4 min) 
- The Secret Language of Dance (4 min) 
- The Transformations of Suspiria (4 min) 

Luca Gudagnino's Suspiria (2018) is an admirable re-imagining of the original, it follows the same basic outline as Dario Argento's film but fleshes it out and adds to the story, perhaps a bit too much in certain respects though. While it doesn't ever reach the fevered heights of the original it is a bold, stylish and gruesome tale of witchery, well worth a watch, but this is sure to be a film that splits down the middle with fans who love/hate it. 

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