Venice 2018 review: Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino)

the mother archetype!

During the weirdly (or depending on how you look at it, unsettlingly) edited opening scene of Luca Guadagnino’s rethinking of Dario Argento’s horror classic, Suspiria, Chloë Grace Moretz’s Patricia moves around psychotherapist Jozef Klemperer’s (Lutz Ebersdorf, if you buy that) clinic and our attention is specifically drawn to a book by Jung. It becomes obvious in which way Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich are aiming to extend the concept. The witches, as the movie doesn’t take much time to address them since anyone who saw the original film already knows what we’re up against, are among the Jungian mother archetypes as a figure of evil. And we are in a world all about mothers and mother figures.

But as it turns out, Jung is only the first in a series of ideas thrown into the film by its creators. Guadagnino’s film understandably does not follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and aims to be a thing of its own. But it’s not just that. Guadagnino tries to create a more intellectually complex, sophisticated film. Suspiria scrapes the surface of many subjects, such as the Holocaust and the Baader-Meinhof Group. It’s a justifiable idea in this context to deal with Germany’s history, their own archetypes, but all those storylines should serve something in the plot, something crucial to the core of the story. And it’s hard to say they do. The world Guadagnino created expands to German politics, American Mormons, lead character Susie’s past life among them and her biological mother on her deathbed, the murder of Hans Martin Scheleyer, the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 by the Red Army Faction and Jozef’s losses during World War II. And most of these lead the plot nowhere, do not serve anything more than character background or historical detail. Thematically, the aim is going deeper on subjects of power, its ill use, corruption. But this should not be that project. There is a reason why Argento created a closed-circuit world in his film. Guadagnino’s version ends up being a mess of tossed-up ideas with no outcome, and all too shallowly explored. He obviously wanted to make a big horror film, but also something much more than that, and it not only doesn’t work, it almost feels like a betrayal of the original. A high-flying move, like looking down at the original.

The biggest achievement of Suspiria is as a body horror. There are some impressively crafted and choreographed dance sequences, one crosscut with a gruesome death, and Dakota Johnson is terrific in each. But overall, Tilda Swinton in dual roles (let’s not kid ourselves) and Mia Goth carry most of the dramatic material and tension. It almost feels like Guadagnino did not trust Johnson’s acting chops and spread the heavy load. Or maybe the fetish of using a legendary cast of European actresses got in the way. Angela Winkler, Fassbinder actress and ex-wife Ingrid Caven, Renée Soutendijk, Sylvie Testud, and in a smaller role Jessica Harper, the lead of the Argento original, form a twisted company of witches. While the character of Jozef as an extended version of Udo Kier’s brief role in the original, and his interest, involvement and fate in the events on the contrary lead the story too much off course.

As the film gets closer to a conclusion, trying to create an epic clash of all evil, Guadagnino falls into the trap of excessive gore and fake-looking visual effects with some intentional and some clearly not-so-intentional comedic results. Trying to deviate from the original film and offer new twists and shocks, Guadagnino forces his hand to a ridiculous outcome. One of the most divisive films in competition so far, Suspiria is interesting to watch, taking some bold risks that sure count for something, but it’s an interesting mess nonetheless.