'Suspiria' Is "Lavishly Cerebral," But Is Missing One Thing, Say Critics

It's a gorgeous, sick film that's more art than horror at times.

As the reviews come in for Suspiria, the cinematic homage to the operatic 1977 Italian horror movie that opens in limited release on Halloween, critics are praising it for mesmerizing choreography and gorgeously gory execution, while various high-profile reviews of the film seem to share a common criticism: It’s not actually scary.

Director Luca Guadagnino bought the film rights from the original film writers, Dario Argento (who also directed it) and Daria Nicolodi, announcing a remake in 2008. Eight years later, after first cancelling the film and re-announcing its production at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival in 2015, the film is set for release, starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke composing the soundtrack. Like the original film, it centers on a young dancer who joins a lofty dance academy run by witches. But the Suspiria’s modern successor leans more toward an art film rather than classic horror.

Suspiria poster
Luca Guadagnino has dreamed of remaking *Suspiria* since first seeing the movie at age 14. 

The Dancing Is Arresting

Writing for LA Weekly, critic April Wolfe finds the choreography stunning. Commenting on Olga’s dance-induced torture, she observes, “Moments like these that remind me how vibrant and devastating art can be when it dares to go dark with abandon — this is some deep Hieronymus Bosch shit.”

And writing for the New Yorker, critic Anthony Lane expresses similar appreciation for choreographer Damien Jalet’s work: “Instead of jumping with surprise, you shiver, wince, frown, and bear the brunt — never more so than when the action hits the dance floor, and when the editing snaps in time with the bodies in motion.”

It’s Visually Mesmerizing

Writing for Variety, critic Owen Gleiberman says that the “lavishly cerebral” Suspiria executes traditional horror mechanisms well.

“On the rare occasions when he tries to shock us, he does a great job: the fragmented nightmare montages of bad-acid-trip imagery — worms, evil faces, memories of domestic torture — are incredibly well executed, and I wish the movie had done more with them.”

And writing for Vulture, David Edelstein credits Guadagnino carrying over his lush, passionate film style into horror:

“He concocts some piquant montages and Felliniesque writing-witch tableaux, and someone had fun mixing whispers, moans, and random clatters into the side and rear speakers.”

Two-and-a-Half Hours of Too Much History

Edelstein comments that the film’s potential for psychedelic fun was bogged down with Cold War history and performance art:

“The movie would be a hoot if it didn’t drag on for two and a half hours and feature witches who talk so much that Hansel and Gretel would fling themselves into the oven to get it over with.”

And writing for Time, critic Stephanie Zacharek though the film was “bland, grisly, boring and silly,” after seeing its debut at the 75th Venice International Film Festival earlier this year. “But mostly, the political backdrop is an extra layer of needless complication. Guadagnino is thinking too much and feeling too little.”

Yes, Tilda Swinton Has a Secret Role

The majority of the cast is female — even the role of Dr. Jozef Klemperer is played by a skillfully made-up Tilda Swinton. (Check the credits though, and you’ll find the name Lutz Ebersdorf). But some critics complain that a movie propping up female power remains a story told by men.

“My biggest peeve with Suspiria — aside from a cloying, mismatched score — is that, like the new Halloween, it’s written, directed, scored, edited and shot by men, though it almost solely stars and concerns women,” writes Wolfe for LA Weekly. “I love this movie, respect Guadagnino as a filmmaker and [David] Kajganich as a writer, and yet I cannot shut up the part of my brain that screams that, yet again, men are coasting on the labor of women and co-opting women’s work as their own.

Does *Suspiria Have a Post-Credits Scene? Watch This To Find Out:

When Does Suspiria Come Out?

The movie will run in limited release on Halloween before expanding to theaters nationwide on November 2. When it does, Guadagnino’s long-term dream to recreate Suspiria will be fulfilled — while maybe passing on nightmares to the audience.

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Media via Sara Deck