• Suspiria (Lionsgate Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Lionsgate Entertainment
    Released on: January 25th, 2018.
    Director: Luca Guadagnino
    Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Elena Fokina, Jessica Harper
    Year: 2018
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    Suspiria – Movie Review:

    Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 interpretation of Suspiria begins when Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass and the 2013 Carrie remake), a student of the Tanz Dance Academy in the West Berlin of 1977, pays a very panicked visit to her therapist, Josef Klemperer (played by one “Lutz Ebersdorf”). The reason for this manic visit? She believes that the school is run by witches – she comes right out and says so – witches that have pledged their dark allegiance to the Three Mothers: Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mother Suspiriorum.

    Around the same time this is happening, an American girl named Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson of the Fifty Shades Of Grey films) leaves her Mennonite family in Ohio and arrives in Berlin to audition at the academy. She’s told that given the fact that she has no formal training or credentials she’s lucky to have received an audition at all, but once she starts dancing, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton of Snowpiercer) is impressed enough that she’s offered a spot with the company. Meanwhile, Olga (Elena Fokina), a friend of Patricia’s, becomes increasingly upset about the disappearance of her friend. When she becomes irate with Blanc during a dance rehearsal, she storms out of the studio while Susie gives a demonstration that impresses the matron and wins her the lead spot in the troupe’s upcoming production of Volk.

    Susie soon befriends an English girl named Sara (Mia Goth of A Cure For Wellness) who becomes interested in Patricia and Olga’s disappearances, eventually bringing Susie into all of this. Meanwhile Klemperer, who still hopes to find out if his wife died in a concentration camp during the Second World War or not, starts investigating the goings-on at the academy. His hope is to try and find out the truth behind Patricia’s disappearance and what’s really happening at the Tanz Dance Academy.

    That’s a pretty vague description of the plot but we’ll leave it at that – but be forewarned, there are minor spoilers contained in the rest of this review in regards to both the 2018 version of Suspiria and the 1977 classic that inspired it…

    Argento’s original was an all-out assault on the senses, a dark fairy tale told with orgasmic color combinations and a deafening prog rock soundtrack. It was an exercise in cinematic excess and a flawless example of how sound and vision can collide in beautifully macabre fashion. While Guadagnino’s take uses the same basic premise – American girl goes to German dance academy run by witches – the similarities mostly stop there, even if many of the characters in both versions share the same names. Guadagnino’s film feels more inspired by the body horror films of David Cronenberg or the manic possession aspects of Ken Russell’s The Devils than it does by anything Argento has ever made. The scene in which Olga is taken out of the equation sees her body contorted into such an unusual shape and with such violent force and the finale features some ugly, unnatural prosthetics work that you can’t help but think of Cronenberg’s work. It would seem that Guadagnino shares a similar fascination with the more horrifying aspects of the human body. We see this not just in the ‘horror’ scenes but in the dance scenes as well. For example, there’s a specific shot where one of the dancers goes down to the floor and pushes her shoulder blades almost all the way together, creating an unsettling rippling effect down her back – she’s an attractive woman put into a position that intentionally makes her grotesque. We see things like this occur throughout the picture. As to the Russell comparison, Suspiria’s finale features dancers enthralled and possessed and moving as if under the control of an occult force. We see similarities here to the scene in The Devil’s where the nuns, likely possessed, are writhing about lusting after Oliver Reed’s character. It’s a scene that works on the same level.

    As to the look of the film, it’s almost the polar opposite of Argento’s exercise in bombastic color. Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom have gone for a very flat, muted look for most of the film. There are splashes of warm primaries here and there but the vast majority of the picture is bathed in earth tones. It works in the context of the story being told and it suits the late-seventies Berlin locations, but it doesn’t look like Argento’s picture at all. Additionally, there are drastic differences in the score as well. Where Goblin’s work was very over the top and a near constant presence in the film, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke contributes a much softer, ambient selection of music for this version. Again, it works, but don’t expect to leave the film humming the main theme like you would with the original picture. Yorke’s music is much subtler.

    As to the performances, for the most part they’re great. Dakota Johnson is very good in the lead. She’s calm, quiet, collected. Likeable enough. She handles herself well in the dance scenes and looks right for the part. Her acting is more than fine here. Mia Goth is also impressive as Sara, Susie’s kind friend and the more inquisitive of the pair. Chloë Grace Moretz isn’t in the film long enough to make much of an impression but she’s good in the opening scene, effectively communicating her character’s increasing fears. Elena Fokina is put through the ringer as Olga but damn it all if she doesn’t deliver. And then there’s the Tilda Swinton factor. As Blanc, the Bowie-esque androgynous actress is excellent. She has a very strong presence in the film and is perfectly suited for this role. However, for some reason Guadagnino and company decided that it would be good to cast her in two other parts, and as such, we see her under heavy prosthetics and makeup playing Josef Klemperer and, much later in the film, Helena Markos. As Markos, she’s fine – unrecognizable. As Klemperer it’s a different story. She’s not quite as convincing in this part and while her acting is fine, once you know it’s her you spend more time ogling the makeup work than appreciating the acting and it becomes a distraction rather than an advantage.

    This isn’t a perfect film. At two-and-a-half-hours in length it’s longer than it needs to be. The film brings politics of the day into the plot without ever really delivering a reason for it, leaving a subplot about some RAF (Red Army Faction) terrorist activity hanging limp. Additionally, the subplot involving Klemperer’s search for his wife feels unnecessary, though it does give the Jessica Harper, the star of the original film, a reason to do a cameo (and it is great to see her show up here for a couple of minutes). It is, however, an impressive effort on the part of the cast and crew. It won’t ever replace Argento’s classics, nor does it need to, but it does stand alongside it as a unique work of arthouse horror, one well worth seeing.

    Suspiria – Blu-ray Review:

    Lionsgate brings Suspiria to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Shot on 35mm film, Suspiria looks very good on Blu-ray (though you can’t help but wish that Lionsgate had opted to give it a 4k UHD release). The stylish cinematography is very well represented here and the film’s intentionally bleak color scheme is reproduced perfectly. There are a couple of spots where some light banding can be detected and one or two spots where you might spot just a tiny bit of crush in the darker scenes but if you’re not looking for this type of things then the odds are pretty good that you won’t even notice it. Skin tones look nice and natural and black levels are solid. The transfer shows fantastic detail throughout, especially in the closeup shots but not limited to them. There’s excellent depth and texture present throughout the transfer as well. The image is also pristine, showing fine grain throughout but no noticeable print damage at all and the transfer is free of obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems.

    Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks are offered in the film’s native mix of English, German and French. Subtitles appear on screen automatically during the stretches that are spoken in a foreign language. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH and Spanish. Those with the hardware to handle it are encouraged to opt for the Atmos track, as it’s absolutely flawless. There’s a lot of very distinct surround activity here and the mix uses every speaker in your setup to envelop you as the film plays out. In some scenes this is limited to the score but in many others, in the dance scenes for example, you’ll hear all manner of things coming from various angles to place you in the action. Bass response is very tight and quote powerful but not to the point where it buries the performers or the score. The high end never gets shrill and there’s just a load of audible detail to take in here. Balance is perfect and, as you’d hope given that this movie is pretty recent, there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion. This is a reference quality track.

    Aside from a few previews for unrelated Lionsgate/Amazon Studios properties, the disc includes only three brief featurettes. The first of these is the four-minute The Making Of Suspiria which explains how, when remaking the film, Guadagnino and company set out to do something decidedly different than Argento’s original and then explains how they attempted to do that. The four-minute The Secret Language Of Dance interviews choreographer Damien Jalet and provides an explanation of what went into putting together some of the more complex, and bizarre, dance numbers that are a focal point of the film. The third and final featurette is The Transformations Of Suspiria, a four-minute examination of the practical effects work that was required for some of the more memorable scenes in the movie such as Olga’s demise in the room of mirrors and the conjuring of death during the film’s finale.

    Suspiria – The Final Word:

    Luca Guadagnino’s take on Suspiria is an interesting and, at times, genuinely frightening take on Argento’s classic. More of an homage than a flat-out remake, the film nevertheless exploits the basic premise of the original film in unique ways to create something entirely different out of the very familiar source material. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a very good one made all the better by some stunning visuals, impressive effects and very strong performances. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release is disappointingly light on extras but it does look and sound superb.

    Click on the images below for full sized Suspiria Blu-ray screen caps!