“When You Dance The Dance Of Another, You Make Yourself In The Image Of Its Creator…”
Considered as one of the staple examples of horror cinema since its’ release in 1977, Dario Argento’s Suspiria continues to bewilder, bemuse and bewitch audiences both observing for the first time and avid returners still hooked in the enchanting spell cast by the Italian, with the iconic neon colour palette utilised for the film’s signature style and the extravagantly overblown score by Goblin the standout elements forty one years on. Whilst I can consider myself a stern admirer of the Argento classic, repeat viewings have failed to alter my opinion that even with all the outstanding elements within its’ genetic makeup, there also sits a few major ills, particularly in its’ longevity regarding certain special effects and awfully hammy acting, and whilst the thought of ever treading on such sacred ground for a remake, reboot or re-imagining seems fundamentally blasphemous, Suspiria circa 2018 is project which I have been gleefully looking forward to since the first whispers surfaced into the ears of cinema fans across the world. Directed by fellow Italian, Luca Guadagnino, (A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name) who refers to his latest project as a homage to the Argento original rather than a fully blown remake, Suspiria sees Dakota Johnson (Bad Times as the El Royale) as Susie Bannion, a seemingly repressed yet mysterious American dancer who travels into the heart of a war torn West Berlin in order to be admitted into the world renowned Markos Dance Academy and fall under the wing of Tilda Swinton’s (Doctor Strange) lead choreographer, Madame Blanc.
Taking place in 1977, the release year and setting of the original, Guadagnino’s interpretation follows Argento’s original screenplay only to particular extents, using familiar characters and settings only in name as the Italian reunites with A Bigger Splash screenwriter, David Kajganich, for a script which is determined to offer something completely radical as it plunges headfirst into an array of themes and mythological exploration, setting the tone for a remake which doesn’t care how much you may love the original as it seeks to present a subversive, differing tale of events which sits at the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum in terms of its’ filmic genetic makeup. Of the more obvious changes, Guadagnino completely strips the neon embers of the Argento version for a more traditional, classic horror movie aesthetic, choosing to gloss the film in a grim, grainy colour palette and incorporating familiar B-movie genre tropes including quickfire camera zooms, schizophrenic editing and detailed facial shots similar to the likes of Don’t Look Now and more crucially, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Whilst the original thrived on the central twist regarding the secretive coven of witches embedded within the heart of the school’s grounds, Kajganich’s script openly embraces such a fact from the outset, presenting the presence of evil as somewhat natural as we see Johnson’s Bannion quickly become the centre of a scheming plot to sacrifice her bewildering power to the unseen force of the school’s titular matriarchal figure, Helena Markos, and whilst the openness of such evil forces seemed a strange narrative choice heading into the movie, the decision does ultimately make absolute sense, saving an even bigger reveal for its’ own terrifying final act and understanding that most audiences heading in are original Suspiria fans anyway and therefore already well versed with the film’s central horror.
Synchronising deliciously with the purposeful intention to oppose pretty much everything within the original, Thom Yorke’s score beautifully and hauntingly glides hand in hand with the story, utilising a primarily piano led catalogue of tracks which matches the best work produced by Yorke both in a solo capacity and with Radiohead, with lead track, “Suspirium”, particularly impressive, encompassing the radical difference to the rather barmy but highly memorable Goblin score utilised in Argento’s film. At two and a half hours, the run-time does seem rather off-putting for some audiences who will undoubtedly find the slow burn nature of the pacing tortuously boring and irksome, but in a similar vein to Blade Runner 2049, the slower pace never felt much of an issue, building up dramatically to flashes of brutal, stylistic violence and a final act which when arrives feels particularly well earned. Among the many standout set pieces, the central dance sequences are incredibly well choreographed, with Guadagnino’s version emphasising the art of movement much more then the original ever did, and with added thematic notions regarding motherhood, the effect of war and a rather contemporary commentary on the abuse of power, Suspiria circa 2018 almost falls into the category of epic cinema, even when particular narrative arcs seem slightly tacked on to the extent that they either could have been shortened or removed completely. With Johnson and Swinton both absolutely superb in the central roles as they willingly buy into the vision created by a director they have both worked with in the past, Suspiria is a bold, beautiful and at times, genuinely unnerving work of art-house cinema which took the genetic code of a horror genre classic and redefined it from top to bottom.
Overall Score: 9/10
“This Is Not A Place For A Priest, Father. You Shouldn’t Be Here…”
Written and directed by the excellent Drew Goddard, the mind behind the likes of Cabin in the Woods and Netflix’s first season of Daredevil, Bad Times at the El Royale bundles together an abundance of top-notch actors within the confines of a script which mixes together an Agatha Christie-esque air of neo-noir mystery with a very obvious nod to the quirky and wordy works of Quentin Tarantino. Set in the dying embers of the late 1960’s, the majority of the action takes place within the lifeless, unkempt eeriness of the titular hotel, one straddled with history and echoes of a previous life involving the rich and famous but now suffering from a lack of custom primarily due to a newly founded inactive liquor license. As soon as the film’s colourful band of characters slowly check themselves in however, the presence of the murky collection of cats including Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Catholic Priest, Donald “Doc” O’Kelly, Dakota Johnson’s (Fifty Shades Freed) rebellious young Emily and Jon Hamm’s (Tag) travelling vacuum salesman, Seymour Sullivan, result in the mysteries of the hotel and the secrets of its’ guest’s unraveling with particularly violent and menacing ends.
Whilst Goddard has proven to be successful in the past with work which has always remained entertaining and interesting, even if at times not exactly for everyone, Bad Times at the El Royale is unfortunately the American’s first cinematic turkey, an excruciatingly overlong and plodding mess of a movie which although begins in intriguing fashion, fails to warrant almost two and a half hours worth of your time as it drags its’ way towards a finish line without any real sense of purpose or point. Whilst the film does boast a healthy selection of well-executed dialogue heavy set pieces alongside excellent central performances from the likes of Bridges and Cynthia Erivo’s wandering soul singer, Darlene Sweet, as the film crosses over the hour mark, the over-reliance on wasteful backstory and wandering narrative stretches result in a painful longing for the action to come to some sort of meaningful end. Enter Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Infinity War), whose appearance come the ninety minute mark as a curly haired, spiritually baffling and overzealous cross between Charles Manson and Jim Morrison, meant the film then decides to go on for another excruciating forty five minutes, concluding with a soppy and rather weak attempt at humanising a particularly annoying character and then finally ending with a final gasp of saintly praise as I left my seat and headed to the exit. Whilst not totally awful, Bad Times at the El Royale is a simple case of style over substance and made me check IMDB pretty quickly to see if an editor was actually hired at all to do a decent job. On inspection, Lisa Lassek, you are in my bad books.
Overall Score: 5/10
“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”
As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?
In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.