M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on November 2, 2018, here’s my lengthy dissection of the Best Horror Film of the Year, SUSPIRIA 2018! Available on DVD/Blu-ray, On Demand and digital download!
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by David Kajganich (screenplay), Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi (original story and characters)
Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Doris Hick, Malgorzata Bela, Chloë Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Vanda Capriolo, Alek Wek, Jessica Batut, Elena Fokina, Clémentine Houdart, Ingrid Caven, Sylvie Testud, Fabrizia Sacchi, Brigitte Cuvelier, Renée Soutendijk, Christine Leboutte, Vincenza Modica, Marjolaine Uscotti, Charo Calvo, Sharon Campbell, Elfriede Hock, Iaia Ferri, Gala Moody, Sara Sguotti, Olivia Ancona, Anne-Lise Brevers, Halla Thordardottir, Stephanie McMann, Majon Van der Schot, Maria Bregianni, Josepha Madoki, Navala ‘Niko’ Chaudhari, Karina El Amrani, Mikael Olsson, Fred Kelemen, Greta Bohacek, & Jessica Harper
Just short of a masterpiece, SUSPIRIA 2018 is a visual and spine-tingling achievement for the horror genre. Instead of making an out and out remake, as many try to do these days, SUSPIRIA feels more like a successful homage and more—a separate and extended story using the original film as a starting point and then taking it in bold, wild, unique, and often nightmarish directions.
I am one of the many folks who revere Argento’s SUSPIRIA as a classic. SUSPIRIA 1977 is a fantastic feast for the eyes. Jessica Harper is great as the wide-eyed American gal plopped into the middle of this posh, new, and wicked world. The colors and shapes Argento were able to create, as well, as the intricate death sequences are the stuff of horror legend. And who can forget that awesome Goblin score? But at the same time, SUSPIRIA 1977 does tell a typical tale of innocence being corrupted by the grotesque culminating to a battle between good and evil in the end and ending on a somewhat predictable yet satisfying note of good vanquishing an all-powerful evil.
Like SUSPIRIA 2018, Argento’s classic tells the tale of a school run by witches, housing an evil secret, and luring young and innocent ingenues into their lair in order to feast, recruit, and accommodate their talents and vibrance. But it is only in those ways—the setting and that concept, that these two films resemble one another. The rest is an altogether different story, and while I love the colors, grand guignol deaths, over the top acting, and simplistic effects for its time, SUSPIRIA 2018 takes the concept to a level far, far beyond.
In SUSPIRIA 2018, a talented but naïve dancer from Ohio named Susie (Dakota Johnson) is accepted into a prestigious dance school in Berlin run by the stern Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Almost immediately, Susie adapts into the class and shows a talent that leaves her teachers and classmates in awe. With the previous lead dancer Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) going missing, Susie steps into the lead in a classic choreography that serves as a crucial ritual for this coven of witches that doubles as a dance school. Meanwhile, a psychologist named Dr. Kemperer (also played by Swinton under heavy old age makeup), who saw the deeply paranoid Patricia before she disappeared, begins investigating the school as civil unrest and a terrorist hijacking occur in the streets of Berlin around them. As Susie’s dance talents continuing to grow, she unlocks a hidden power exploited by the witches that run the school and edges closer to a dark secret that has taken the lives of many of the most talented dancers to attend there.
The acting in SUSPIRIA is impeccable. Tilda Swinton plays three roles in the film—each one very different than the next. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, by having the film acknowledge this in the world in which it is playing out, with Blanc casting some kind of illusionary spell and allowing her to see the film from three different viewpoints, but this never occurs. While she is fantastic as the stern Madame Blanc, she is also quite convincing as Dr. Kemperer. Kemperer is sort of the emotional lynchpin of the entire film, giving the viewer someone to be utterly sympathetic to from beginning to end. Despite the fact that she is under a ton of old age makeup to make her look like an elderly man, it is a testament to Swinton’s acting prowess that she was able to make me feel for Kemperer’s story as strongly as I did. While Susie is the focal point in the film, she is tempted and teased by the “dark side” throughout the film, while Kemperer is truly the one at the emotional center of it all.
Dakota Johnson is quite good in this lead role as the wide-eyed dancer from Ohio thrust into this diabolical world. On top of being convincing as a modern dancer, she is also given quite an arc to play with and is convincing every step of the way. Maria Goth once again plays an otherworldly oddball character in Sara, a dancer who befriends Johnson’s Susie, but Goth, as usual, plays this type well. Chloë Grace Moretz offers up one of her best performances in the brief role of the paranoid Patricia and Elena Fokina dazzles in her small role as one of the first victims of the brutal power behind Susie’s dance spells.
While Argento dazzled us with bright colors and vivid backdrops, director Luca Guadagino goes in the exact opposite direction and makes everything muddy, colorless, and industrial. One might think that would make for a less vibrant film, but this decision allows the movements of the dancers to be the artistic flair that stands out. There is less focus on elaborate death sequences as well. There is a death toll, but they are done within the world of the dance that is created in the movie rather than taking influence from elaborate Giallo murder set pieces that Argento relied on. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but Guadagino’s deaths seem much more at home in the dramatic world of dance.
There is a sort of magic in all forms of art. Be it film, painting, writing, or dance, there is a flow that the artist finds themselves in that is almost uncategorizable. It is almost a form of magic. SUSPIRIA 2018 is built on that concept. Much like a witch’s brew or a special incantation, dance, if done in a specific way, can be a powerful spell in this world Luca Guadagnino has made. I like this sophisticated take on magic that makes it all more powerful as it relates to something that is innate in us all at humans—our ability to create and dream. It is that powerful center that this film delivers most of its most powerful scenes.
Appreciators of modern dance will definitely be able to look past the blood and gore and see some pretty vivid and electric choreography throughout SUSPIRIA 2018. It understands and highlights the passion of the craft of dancing, even when it is casting it in a dark, witchy light.
I hate to continue to compare the original to the remake, but I have to say that I prefer the bombastic and explosive ending of the remake to the rather rushed and choppily edited denouement of the original. Again, Guadagnino keeps things all about the dancing in this film, ending with a ritual that is one of the goriest, sleaziest, and twisted finales I have ever seen. The twist at the end truly is a surprise and plays out in a grand and operatic fashion. The final blood soaked minutes of this film will definitely leave you in awe. And the epilogue, focusing on Kemperer once again, gives the film a soulful sendoff that really makes it all feel as if all of the subplots and plot threads have come to a decisive and fitting conclusion.
This is all around fantastic filmmaking. Deft writing, talented art, gorgeous performances, and a gore-drenched ending that should leave the horror fans satisfied. While the runtime is quite long, I never was bored with the sights and sounds that make up SUSPIRIA. I’m sure the length of butt-in-the-seat time is going to get to some though. Still, after seeing this film three times, I am at a loss for what I would cut from it in order to make it a brisker length. SUSPIRIA 2018 also not only tells the tale of Argento’s original, but his entire “Three Mothers” trilogy, giving Argento’s SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, and MOTHER OF TEARS a big budget and high craft treatment that definitely overshadows the latter parts of Argento’s originals. Guadagnino never seems to disrespect what has come before, rather he builds on it and makes the material his own.
SUSPIRIA 2018 is a commitment of a film. If you’re not into highbrow and arthouse horror, this one might not be for you. But if you like some emotional depth and thematic heft to your horror—if you long for people to take horror seriously—if you want to show how horror can be high art as well as terrifying, SUSPIRIA 2018 is the best of the best at it.
THE COUNTDOWN 2018-2019
#1 – SUSPIRIA 2018
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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