(director: Luca Guadagnini; screenwriter: David Kajganich; cinematographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom; editor: Walter Fasano; music: Thom Yorke; cast: Dakota Johnson (Susie Bannion), Tilda Swinton (Madame Blanc/Dr. Klemperer/Helena Markos), Mia Goth (Sara), Angela Winkler (Miss Tanner), Ingrid Caven (Miss Vendegast), Elena Fokina (Olga), Sylvie Testud (Miss Griffith), Renée Soutendijk (Miss Huller), Chloë Grace Moretz (Patricia Hingle), Jessica Harper (Anke), Doris Hick(Frau Sesame); Runtime: 152; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, Gabriele Moratti, William Sherak, Bradley J. Fischer, Silvia Venturini Fendi; Amazon Studios; 2018-Italy/USA-in German, French & English-with English subtitles when necessary)
“Hits you between the eyes with its primal witch entreaties.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”/”Call Me By Your Name”) smartly directs this 1977 remake from noted Italian horror film director Dario Argento. The original was a classic– even if a frenzied trashy film of bold craziness that I didn’t care for. At least it was a weird visual treat in CinemaScope and had a dazzling splattering of color visuals to soak around a haunted German dance academy.
Argento’s film has come to be accepted as a traditional horror pic for contemporary audiences who crave gore and scares, above all else. The remake is also a gory matriarchal horror pic that is longer by an hour and is an open-faced homage to Argento. Nevertheless it takes it in a direction that is more exotic and deeper in the psyche of horror than the original. It’s also without Argento’s black comedy. Of note, Jessica Harper, the lead in the original film, appears in a small role.The creative film by the fellow Italian director is one with great dance numbers (courtesy of choreographer Damien Jalet) and great use of colors (courtesy of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for using all those muted pinks, disco-lit blues, splashy tomato reds and green marbles). But it lacks the wild passion of the original (which might not appeal to some Argento fans) even as it hits you between the eyes with its primal witch entreaties. It’s a gory film with subliminal scares, one that writer David Kajganich rewrote as a new script for this version. He keeps it classy and eerie, as he sets it in 1977 in a divided Berlin that has the Berlin Wall as a reminder the city is split into East and West. The narrative is in six acts – “1977”, “Palaces of Tears”, “Borrowing”, “Taking”, “Into the Mütterhouse (All the Floors are Darkness)” and “Suspiriorum” – and an epilogue –
“A Sliced-Up Pear”. In West Germany, during the fall of 1977, the glum dance student at Berlin’s Markos Dance Academy, Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz), tells her male psychiatrist Jozef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton, playing it in drag) that the academy consists of a coven of witches. For proof she leaves with him journals backing up her claims, such as “The Three Mothers”: Mother uspiriorum (Mother of Sighs), Mother Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness), and Mother Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears). Klemperer initially dismisses her as someone delusional, but grows suspicious when he is informed that she has disappeared.The day following Patricia’s disappearance the Ohio-born Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who was raised on a Mennonite farm, auditions for the same famous German dance troupe in West Berlin, that is housed in a stern looking marble building from the Nazi-days in the 1930s and is run by the visionary but imperious black clad Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). The director looks like a combination of a witch or one of those German-bred Baader-Meinhof Gang’ leftist activists of the ’70s, who attacked the establishment institutions. The director and the dancers attending the audition are all impressed by the naive farm girl’s fearless dancing and she is accepted into the company not realizing the dance school is a front for a coven of witches. They then recruit Susie in their coven, as she lives with them in the free-dorm provided by the academy. Meanwhile we witness the bad things that happen to the dancers who rebel against the witches.The dance movements are erotic and stimulating, as we feel the empowerment movements of the modern women dancers using their bodies as a weapon for change. As a cloud circles over the academy indicating there are witches stirring things up, this subversive film melds together real-life past atrocities to witches and a sense of a world transforming right before our eyes. It’s now more than an Argento horror pic, but a liberating art film that keeps in the horror film tropes and scares as it encapsulates it with real world events.The brilliant score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is good at provoking hysteria and adds to the ambitious stylistic explosions onscreen.
It’s a daring film that surprised me by how much further it re-invented the original. It’s the kind of horror pic that leaves us with a serious message, as it leaves us thinking that if we don’t learn from our past mistakes in history we will be doomed to repeat them.
REVIEWED ON 10/21/2018 GRADE: A- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/