Luca Guadagnino's 'Suspiria' is polarizing but fails to cast a spell [Review]

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Good God, what did I just witness? Luca Guadagnino's "Suspiria," a remake of Dario Argento's blood-soaked RED 1975 classic, wants to be everything its predecessor wasn't -- a meandering 153 minute take on Argento's horror film, the Italian filmmaker's re-imagining doesn't stir up the creative juices that made the original so formidably and artfully disturbing.

“Suspiria” is set in 1977, the year that Dario Argento’s original came out. It deals with a coven of venal, sadistic, witches who set up shop in the basement of a Berlin dancing school, heralded by a well-renowned dance teacher played by Tilda Swinton. They raise a filthy, thorn-fingered demon that seems to signal the end of times. Their ultimate catch for ritual is a talented dancer from Ohio named Suzie (Dakota Johnson).

The metaphors for a post-war Germany still dealing with the deeply ingrained demons lurking in the nation's psyche are very much there in Guadagnino's remake. The 47-year-old Italian director of sensual, luscious statements, such as "I Am Love," and "Call Me By Your Name," clearly wanted to get this film out of his system before he went back to his next film set in the Italian countryside, a setting he so vividly knows like the back of his hand. 

If some will respond to the film's hard-to-decipher plot, others will be bewildered by the vision that's on-screen, a vision ever so compromised by self-aggrandizing.  The result is rather murky and muddy, and has none of the red-soaked pleasures of Argento's visionary film — many walkouts will happen, never a sign of a bad movie as far as I'm concerned, whilst others will stick around and try to find answers to this mysterious Pandora's box of a statement.

This is an intellectually ambitious exercise that is too originally conceived to ignore, and the excellent soundtrack by Radiohead's Thom Yorke tends to build some much-needed atmosphere in the film's memorable set-pieces. There is a good movie hidden somewhere in there, the editing room could have helped mold something more concretely built and sustained, after all, the original was just 90 minutes in length, but Guadagino's film is almost twice that amount of minutes. 

This modern-day re-imagining of "Suspiria" tries to focus much of its time on the poetic and erotic but achieves none of the sensuality needed; no spell is cast, which is what will make or break audience reaction to this film. You either give in to the hypnotism Guadagnino intends to cast on his viewer or you sit there, frustrated and looking at your watch every few minutes. [C]