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Movie review: 'Suspiria' remake goes bigger, not quite better

Dakota Johnson stars in the remake of "Suspiria," opening Friday at Zinema 2.

"Suspiria" is Luca Guadagnino's version of Dario Argento's 1977 supernatural horror classic, and the director of "Call Me by Your Name," "I Am Love" lets you know right away, he's going off-roading.

Susie Bannion, a fresh off-the-Ohio farm dancer, arrives in post-Holocaust West Berlin to audition for the prestigious Markos Dance Academy. Tensions are high with leftist group the Red Army Faction moving, and Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) begs the help of her therapist Josef (an in-drag Tilda Swinton).

"They'll hollow me out and eat my ... on a plate," she says of the witches at the academy. He shakes it off as delusion, and when she goes missing, it tugs at his heartstrings. This perhaps unnecessary narrative is a biggest departure from the original at the hands of screenwriter David Kajganich.

As Susie (Dakota Johnson) moves up the ranks under the tutelage of choreographer Madame Blanc (also Swinton), her friend Sara (Mia Goth) stumbles upon something sinister in the building's bowels.

The best scenes include Swinton's Madame Blanc. She's otherworldly, floating across the dance floor cloaked in long shrouds of earthy tones. She greets her dancers with cheek-kisses, and the small drops of tenderness here and between Sara and Susie are a welcome surprise and a salve to rising trouble in and outside of the dance academy — a fact that screenwriter Kajganich seems to beat you over the head with. Over and over.

Dakota Johnson's Susie is freckled and focused, gyrating her body in fierce and sometimes frightening ways.

"Empty yourself so the work can live with you," says Madame Blanc. "Movements are a set of shapes, poems, like prayers."

"Spells," adds Susie, and this idea of dance as witchcraft runs throughout.

As a filmmaker, Guadagnino teases in the beginning with shaky, in-your-face camera advances. It's unnerving, and it'll make you excited for what's coming — but it's a red herring. Save for some blurry camera work and hologram-effects, his lens feels like a stagnant bystander.

The original film's prog-rock score by Goblin was a foreboding and deafening character all its own (and the reason this reviewer watched the original all those years ago). In his debut as a feature composer, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke mixes sparse piano chromatics with his recognizably haunting voice and synthy sequences. It feels like the perfect fit for a film set in the '70s, but not really set in the '70s.

Clocking in at over two-and-a-half hours, it's as if Guadagnino and film editor Walter Fasano didn't make choices. On the upside though, the places this version goes introduce Argento's horror trilogy The Three Mothers: 1977's "Suspiria," 1980's "Inferno" and 2007's "The Mother of Tears."

And in today's climate and with films like Darren Aronofsky's "Mother," themes about the forces around motherhood are, and may continue to be explored.

As for Guadagnino's "Suspiria," expect a cameo from Jessica Harper, the original Suzy Bannion, yay. And it's a hard R here, with an extended bloody, gory scene that desensitizes with odd pangs of body acceptance. (At one point, a character opens her chest to reveal a cavern to her heart that looks vaginal.)

Guadagnino's film is a progressive, albeit bloated update to the original that's not quite worth the time. It'll make you wanna call your mom. Or run from her.

Grade: C-


Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Screenwriter: David Kajganich

Time: 2:32

Rating: R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references

Showing Friday: Zinema 2

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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