Girl goes to ballet school led by witches: Now there's an elevator pitch for you, and she pretty much covers the plot of Dario Argentos glorious Giallo master stroke Suspiria: Jessica Harper, as naive young ballet student Suzy Bannion, is put on a secret diet that makes her feel weird and later discovers a hidden room in the school where witches come together and hatch bad plans. Suspiria was never about the plot, though; it was about the mood, the bold splashes of fuchsia fake blood, the great Op Art board game production, and the music, a spooky, percussive catchy tune by Italian group Goblin.
Luca Guadagnino, who may be a genius of sorts, has redesigned Suspiria. But it's not brilliant work. (The film, an Amazon production, plays here at the Venice Film Festival.) Guadagnino specializes in lush, passionate films ̵
But this new [19459004Suspiria is boring, gruesome, boring and silly. There is nothing poetic or erotic. It is not the fault of the performers, including Dakota Johnson as Susie, who was reinvented here as Mennonite naïf with great Martha Graham dreams, or Guadagnino Regular Tilda Swinton as Madame Blanc, one of the top instructors of the Berlin Elite Dance Academy, where Susie is accepted as a student. (Of course, she's also a witch, one of many, scurrying across the school and grinning at the young dancers while yelling at a mysterious invisible presence called Mother Marko.) These two performers and a lot of diligent supporters (including Harper, in a cameo ), do everything that is asked of them, sometimes even their actions – if not their Pina Bausch on "What a feeling!" Dance films – almost believable.
But Guadagnino has stumbled on his own ambitions. He has made the storyline and the setting incredibly complicated: the story, which is divided into six endless acts – plus an epilogue, oy! – shares, plays in 1977 in Berlin, just as the still divided city is seized by the drama of Lufthansa flight 181, high hunting and violent activities of the Red Army Faction. Somehow these details should be an integral part of the story: when one of the dancers (it's Chloë Grace Moretz, in a tiny minor role) becomes roguish and almost reveals the secrets of the school, the witch students tell the other students that she is a terrorist. Above all, the political background is an additional layer of unnecessary complications. Guadagnino thinks too much and feels too little.
And even if Suspiria is sometimes uncomfortably grim, it's not exactly scary. There are nightmare visions of worms, broken mirrors and bloodstained walls. In the most unnerving episode of the film, a young dancer becomes a kind of obsessed puppet; She is thrown violently against walls, her limbs are twisted and broken. This is after the witches have some eye voodoo work on them, causing them to shed copious, gelatinous, blinding tears. But despite all these bodily fluids and bones drilled through the skin, this Suspiria is more cerebral than visceral. The faint-hearted should know that the sorcerers of the witch include a ritual meat-hooking. There is also a sort of Pilobolus hootenanny in a red room, which is led into sunglasses by an extra-senior citizen Jabba the hat. Do not say I did not warn you.
It could be all right if Guadagnino, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and production designer Inbal Weinberg had opted for a more vibrant color palette: While It's the Right to Rethink Argentos Vision They Really Want to See a Beige Suspiria ? On the positive side, the music of Radiohead's Thom Yorke is reasonably cool and sonorous, and the costumes are quite grand: Giulia Piersanti gets the late 1970s eyes of Laura Mars perfect thing, putting the cast in many high boots girdled coats and puffy tunic dresses, with the occasional swirling cape. There are some nice kimonos – good for running between secret rooms – and Swinton, in one of the two roles she has here (you should be surprised), has a sumptuous wardrobe of floor-length monastic black jersey dresses. Of course, she looks good in everything, and watching her is never boring. She is a witch with a pulse. But not even her powers are enough to revive the gray corpse of this Suspiria.