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Suspiria (2018) (Blu-ray Review)

Hot off my Top 10 films of 2018 list, here comes the Blu-ray debut of Luca Gudagino’s reimaging of Dario Argento’s Italian horror masterpiece, Suspiria starring Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson. Yes, the original is a masterpiece. Who in the world would have thought that they would counter it with another masterpiece and such a unique and very different take on the material. But, this Suspiria is not for everyone (Many probably would argue the first isn’t either, but I’d argue its far more accessible than this one). The film, an Amazon Studios production, had some festival shows and a smaller release following Halloween last year and to no surprise, didn’t rake in all the dough. Luckily, I was able to catch it in the theater, but many weren’t that fortunate or just didn’t want to make a huge drive. Now, everyone will get to see this divisive piece of art when it comes to Blu-ray (Boo! I wanted a 4K Ultra-HD!) on January 29th. Pre-order from Amazon using the link below.

Film 

Young American dancer Susie Bannion arrives in 1970s Berlin to audition for the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Company, stunning the troupe’s famed choreographer, Madame Blanc, with her raw talent. When she vaults to the role of lead dancer, Olga, the previous lead, breaks down and accuses the company’s female directors of being witches. As rehearsals intensify for the final performance of the company’s signature piece, Susie and Madame Blanc grow strangely close, suggesting that Susie’s purpose in the company goes beyond merely dancing. Meanwhile, an inquisitive psychotherapist trying to uncover the company’s dark secrets enlists the help of another dancer, who probes the depths of the studio’s hidden underground chambers, where horrific discoveries await.

Luca Gudagino’s Suspiria is of the best kind of remake you can hope for. An iconic film like Dario Argento’s masterpiece being done a second time brings a frown when the news is announced, but you really have to wait and see what kind of hands are brought to the production before completely judging. Gudagino’s 2018 film only takes the general idea of the original (A school of dance as a front for a witch coven) and couple beats from Argento’s, while conjuring up a nightmare all his own. The new Suspiria is its own beast, finding different focal points and places of exploration, while also bringing a much meaner streak to the lavish showmanship of the 1977 film of the same name.

One big jump of the 2018 edition, is the decision to dig much deeper into the nature and impression of dance onto the story. In the original, the academy felt more like a backdrop and set dressing than anything. Its not that dance wasn’t a factor in it, but in Gudagino’s film, dance it such a heavy hand on the characters that it plays as a more weighty distraction from what is going on beneath the surface. The pieces in the film are more impressive, more intricate, daring and dangerous. Suspiria makes the audience and characters feel the rigorous preparations of the pieces performed in the film. Its much more taxing and painful on the characters than before. Through both seeing it in action and also horrific visual metaphors, you really get a sense as to how much of a toll this can take on the person and their body. Films before like The Red Shoes or Black Swan have done well in showing the stress and competitiveness of the profession, but never has a film really shown the physical day-in/day-out pressure and pain it can wear on the body.

Suspiria is a beautiful looking film in a very unique, cold way. Whereas the Argento film was a stylish flourish in pulsating colors, bursting filters and exquisite framing devices, the new film has a very natural look, choosier when it comes to color. Gudagino’s film takes place in Berlin, but the look of the film reminded me a lot films I’ve seen from Sweden and in a very good way. I don’t want to call Suspiria very polished in its appearance, but it does have a clarity on objects and such when it really wants to showcase them that never takes away from anything else in the frame. Everything here has a natural wear to it, but is also stylish in a very “well kept vintage” sort of way. This world that has been crafted is very calculated and completely thought out, but plays in the most natural and comfortable ways. Its pretty beautiful to just look at in every frame, yet in not as good of hands, this same approach possibly could have come off as nothing special.

A known commodity of Suspiria is the luscious gore on display in the film. I was drawn to the original in my youth by a recommendation that if I was impressed with the gore in Dawn of the Dead, I need to see Suspiria. Argento’s film came packed with gore, but in an almost pretty fashion. Gudagino’s film brings it in artful ways, but they are more realistic and painful in even just the mere suggestion of what is happening to a character. What we’ll remember is the brutal pain brought on to the bodies of the dancers during certain witchcraft ceremonies, but lets not forget the brief instances and flashes of consistent grotesque and unsettling weird imagery brought forth in the dream sequences. Every frame of those almost demands a pause and gives the film additional layers and more for you to process and add to your interpretation of the film. In a better world, this film would be up for a lot of Academy Awards with its make-up and special effects with ease, let alone having fantastic cinematography, editing and more. But, its horror that didn’t make a lot of money and proved divisive, which makes it hard for them to realize you can pick apart aspects and appreciate them even if you (or audiences) didn’t enjoy the overall product.

One that really shouldn’t be denied is Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s score to the film. He’s continuing to prove he’s a mastermind in the rock world and the film world. Yorke fills the world of Suspiria with soundscapes, haunting compositions and even a few actual songs that weave as one perfect collective. He even borrows and pays tribute to the original brilliant score from the longtime Argento collaborator Goblin. Some of it even felt like it was hinting to Fabrizio Frizzi’s score for The Beyond. This isn’t as punchy, loud and intense as the original’s film, Yorke goes more for a mesmerizing, spellbound work that you could find yourself hypnotized for the duration as the record spins on the turntable to a finish.

Tilda Swinton is one of the big factors in taking the film next level. Just her casting alone felt like this movie was going to be in very caring hands. This is just the sort of the thing that makes complete sense without even seeing a script. Swinton plays multiple roles in the film and I wish like hell writers could have shut their damn mouths and not revealed her playing Dr. Josef Klemperer before the film had a wide release. That’s a fun role to watch her do, but its Madame Blanc that commands the screen more than pretty much any role in 2018. She’s both a very vein master artist here, but completely otherwordly as well. Dakota Johnson is also very fabulous here, holding her own against a master like Swinton. There’s an air of mystery in Johnson’s performance that I love and am not sure I’ve seen much appreciated or written about since the film’s release. Whereas Harper’s Suzy Bannion was a clear cut horror heroin through and through, Johnson’s feels like she could have a different motivation. And watching the film an additional time, I’m not quite sure she is who we think she is for the entirety of the film. She’s potentially otherworldly in a different way than the witches here. She’s just human enough to almost be a deceptive lure. She’s our in, our protagonist…but honestly, is that a misdirect? You could argue Dr. Josef could be the distant protagonist of the film.

2018’s version of Suspiria from Luca Gudagino has done the impossible in culling a complete masterpiece and absolute work of art from another masterpiece and work of art. His film has brought forth a much more abstract narrative, one that is fine and digestible on the surface, but leaves a lot to be unlocked and discovered upon further exploration. Motivations will become clearer or seen differently, new clues found and new outlook or feeling evoked whence you return to it. The film is brilliant in every department; direction, acting, cinematography, score, costuming, set design, make-up. It truly feels like the film can be lifted up and held next to the likes of something like the original Solaris. Which admittedly sounds crazy because that movie is set in a space station, but just the overall nature, feel and design of those films feel like they are in a bit of a subgenre of their own, where genre doesn’t matter. 2018 proved a banner year for heavier, stranger abstract films hitting a more mainstream conversation and Suspiria was the best of that bunch.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Suspiria is disappointingly not seeing a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release, but the film didn’t make too much at the box office, so I suppose I get it. Maybe sometime down the road if the film develops a strong cult following and/or Lionsgate allows people to sublicense their films (Let’s face it, the Vestron Line is a cool gesture but barely a presence), but I’m not getting my hopes up. The image here is pretty crisp and features strong attention to detail, hanging on to the intended look of the film and delivers a strong enough picture for the format.

Depth:  There is a solid depth here that possibly could be improved with a 4K UHD disc, but alas, this is pretty solid and definitely gets the trick done. The better lighting in a scene the more impressive it is. Motion is cinematic in appearance and never has any issues with distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are very deep and present some good shading and find themselves decently close to a more natural color. Details can be hidden at times, but crushing is never an issue.

Color Reproduction: Colors have a beautiful natural and colder appearance in the film. There are moments of a bit of poppier colors with red in the form of the performance outfits and Tilda Swinton’s robes in the final act. The specter appearing from time to time has a nice glow to it and when it lights a room in green or red it pops wonderfully.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are colder and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and texture are pretty clear as day in closeup and medium shots. Moles, lip texture, wrinkles, dried blood and make-up line and brush strokes are very clear and window-like in appearance.

Noise/Artifacts: N/A

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English Descriptive Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Well, if they skimped on potential picture quality by not giving us a 4K UHD release, they at least made up for it in the sound department and gave us an awesome Dolby Atmos mix. The track fully understands the film we are dealing with and every wild speaker choice in compliment of what is going on in the movie. The mix captures the feel of Berlin, especially outside, you’ll almost want to warm yourself or shiver. It features a great balance and attention to detail in the depth and layering of the track.

Height: The mix has a myriad of fun with the ceiling speakers, giving us pieces of the scoring/soundscapes or helping to build its power. There are also voices and unique sounds that chime in from the top. The dream sequences (And the finale) are especially more playful with your ceiling speakers.

Low Frequency Extension: Suspiria isn’t a film demanding of your subwoofer, but it does make use and gets pretty deep in terms of pounding through enhanced dance moments, scoring beats and hits and more natural things like engines and slamming.

Surround Sound Presentation: This mix features a nice natural feel in terms of building an environment and following the characters through the frame. It utilizes every speaker with unique sounds or assistance in rolling movements.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with great attention down to the breath of the characters.

Extras 

Suspiria comes with  a digital copy of the film.

The Making Of Suspiria (HD, 3:56) – A generic little EPK piece that brushes over basics of making the film in generalities.

The Secret Language Of Dance (HD, 4:13) – Focuses on the dances, how they inform and make the characters as well as the actor preparations and challenges in pulling them off in the film.

The Transformation Of Suspiria (HD, 4:27) – Available online.

Summary 

Suspiria is a masterpiece in abstract horror and one of 2018’s best films. Depending on who you ask, one may tell you its one of the year’s worst films. Its not for everyone. This Blu-ray release feels like its done the bare minimum to scratch the surface of a great release of the film. While the film looks and sounds terrific, one wishes a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release could have been an option. In addition, the bonus materials have some okay insight but leave so much more to be desired with a film of this nature. I’m glad I’m able to own a copy of the film for my collection, but I’m still thirsty for a better release. With how niche this film is and the direction of home media in our current climate, I’m fearing this may be the best us collectors get.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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