Dakota Johnson at dinner in the Suspiria remake

Why the “Suspiria” Remake Gives Me Hope

by Gabriel Valdez

It may’ve slipped minds that there’s a “Suspiria” remake due to hit theaters on November 2. I’m not going to pretend I remembered. I had clicked to see just how bad the “Bumblebee” trailer for the Transformers spin-off is (hint: really, really bad) when I spied the new “Suspiria” trailer lurking at the edge of the screen.

A constant churn of directors and stars have been attached in the last decade to the remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic. This includes a long-gestated David Gordon Green salvo that thankfully didn’t come to pass. (Green is more fittingly directing the eleventh “Halloween” movie due out two weeks before “Suspiria” on October 19.)

The point is, I’d diligently trained myself to ignore news about a “Suspiria” remake for the past 10 years. There’s a lot of conjecture that “Suspiria” can’t be remade, that its essence can’t be recaptured. I don’t buy into that, and watching the first trailer…this is just about the best approach to “Suspiria” I could have hoped for.

The strength and weakness of giallo filmmaking is just how Freudian it is. It’s a murder mystery mixed with psychological horror, eroticism, and often supernatural elements. “Suspiria” is generally regarded as the exemplar film of the genre. Giallo films are often impressionistic because of how well they bridge basic, gut-level metaphor to complicated, dreamlike concepts of dread.

Freudianism is a double-edged, er, sword. Women are often enabled or empowered in these films only at the expense of other women succumbing to violence, or after paying fetishized visual dues to the director and audience. Yes, giallo can be violent toward men, but it’s never built value on trading or fetishizing us the way it has women.

(I’d argue there’s a reason the Dario Argento films with the strongest women leads involved Daria Nicolodi as a driving creative force in front of and behind the camera, but that’s an article for another day.)

Modern giallo needs to be able to escape some of its tendencies and comment on them, while still processing in violent, Freudian metaphor. It’s a fine line to walk. It’s going to be difficult to present a film about young women at a dance academy being murdered in surreal fashion without building plot value off of fridging women.

“Suspiria” is considered impossible to remake because of its visuals…but that’s never struck me as the problem. It’s this central theme that presents the greatest bar to the success of “Suspiria”…and maybe its greatest opportunity. We’ve seen films that are able to inhabit their genre while still stepping outside of it – art is one of the few places where you can have your cake and sometimes eat it, too.

In terms of visuals, a number of Grand Guignol films have met the visual bar “Suspiria” set, Guillermo Del Toro’s take on it in “Crimson Peak” being the most recent. Grand Guignol can be far more outlandish and winking than giallo can – it’s a more mischievous genre. The point is that there are plenty of art directors and costume designers capable of building a space that’s right for a “Suspiria” remake. “Suspiria” is essentially designed like a stage where a play or dance might take place, just three dimensionally. Take a look at a trailer for the 1977 version. It’s fan-made, since the 70s trailers don’t always do the film justice.

The dreamlike sensibility of giallo is in the editing, the writing, and in a place that’s far too overlooked: the performances. Actors need to be able to play giallo scenes with a broad non-specificity, in a kind of overstated, almost directionless performance that’s built for theatre, to be viewed at a distance. At the same time, those actors need to be playing to the understated detail, realism, and intentionality of close-ups and long takes. It’s that bridge between anchored reality and being flung untethered into an abstract dreamspace that makes giallo work and gives it its purpose.

(This was aided at the time by actors performing in their native languages – English, Italian, and German – and later adding English lines in additional dialogue recording sessions. During filming, they had to understand each other’s performances without always understanding each others’ lines with precision. This melding of languages added to the dreamlike quality of many of Argento’s films, in particular through broader performances in “Suspiria” and shifting language use in later edits of “Deep Red.”)

I have hope there’s a way to achieve this bridge between hard anchor and untethered space that doesn’t just move past, but addresses giallo’s past sins. Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) is a director who may be able to tell a story on both sides of that coin. I don’t think you can find better opposing leads for a remake than Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton – who has a long history of projects that have their cake, eat it too, duplicate the cake into an alternate dimension, share the recipe with David Bowie….

My main hope is that this isn’t just a film that’s true to what giallo once was, because there’s a reason the genre is antiquated and more or less evaporated from production. My hope is that the “Suspiria” remake is a film that can finally drag giallo into modern times and give it a new, updated importance. The building blocks are there, often maintained and updated by films in other genres that border on the territory giallo calls its home, from the stylistic rearrangement of “Lost River” to the metaphorical bridging in “Mirrormask”…from the more mature contemplation on eroticism in “It Follows” to the horror of where Freudian sensibilities take us in “Ex Machina”…from the internal, personal psychologies in Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman” to Darren Aronofsky’s overt “Black Swan.”

There’s ample room and need for giallo not just to resurrect, but to catch up, to learn, to join the 40 years of sensibility it’s yet to figure out. We often think of giallo as needing to be anchored to the past because of the role women are made to play in it. That hasn’t been true of any other genre.

Given a trailer like the one above, I’m going to start hoping those involved understand giallo rests in its themes, performances, and storytelling, that its strength is in the connection between the immediate reaction in the pit of the stomach and the lingering anticipation creeping up the spine, and not just in a pursuit of visuals, victimization, and 40 year-old cliches.

The feature image of Dakota Johnson at a dinner that’s totally not creepy at all is from Scroll here.

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