Style Over Substance Abuse… SUSPIRIA (2018) & CRYSTAL EYES Reviewed

Nadia (or possibly Nidia) about to become fashionably late in the wonderful Crystal Eyes.

Supiria (Italy / USA, 2018). Directed by Luca Guadagnino.

To say I haven’t exactly been in a rush to catch Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria would be a significant understatement. It never seemed remotely like a good idea. Dario Argento’s 1977 original is a unique marriage of his seriously neurotic psyche and formidable technical skill set, the remaking (rebooting, re-imagining, whatever) of which makes about as much sense as somebody having another bash at, say, Eraserhead. It did nothing to allay my misapprehensions when I learned that the film was going to star Tilda Swinton (an actress who regularly missteps from the “worthy of attention” to “desperately seeking attention” category) and that the insufferable Thom Yorke, rather than Claudio Simonetti, would be scoring (Radiohead? Why not just have somebody shit in your ear?) Then the new Suspiria arrived, clocking in at a daunting two-and-a-half-hours plus (really, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do with my time…) Friends who did brave it and whose opinions I value had nothing good to say about it. Well, I’ve finally grasped the nettle and can confidently (if not exactly happily) report that, against all expectations, I found it Suspiria, 2018 style to be… not unbearably awful.

Much critical discussion of Pasta Paura, certainly the work of its principal practitioners, has centred on the old “style over content” chestnut. Does style crowd content out of these films or subtly enhance and amplify it? Guadagnino seems to have his own definite ideas in this regard, dialling down the style (in cahoots with DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, production designer Inbal Weinberg and art directors Merlin Ortner / Monica Sallustio he’s come up with a very good looking picture, whose good looks sadly pale into insignificance compared with the all out aesthetic assault of Argento’s original) while cramming in extraneous content. So Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion (sic) is the victim of a religiously repressive Mennonite upbringing (Suzy’s Mom considers her “my sin… that’s what I smear on the world”… BTW, Greta Bohacek as the young Susie bears a pleasing resemblance to Nicoletta Elmi); instead of being bisected by falling masonry, Pat Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets regrettably wrapped up with the Red Army Fraction (yes, that’s the correct rendering of their name) but also gets to deliver the best line in the film (“They’ll follow me out and eat my cunt on a plate!”); and the witches who staff the Markos Dance Academy seem to have exerted an influence over Hitler and co. So far, so… well, I’m still watching, aren’t I?

Guadagnino gets a bit more milage out of the whole terpsichorean thing. Those witches seem to feed off the energies unleashed by dancing (which can also be turned against their enemies) rather than just eating the dancers, as in the original. The routines here are modern, interpretive stuff, as opposed to the classical ballet in Argento’s film (which, combined with some judicious editing, makes easier for Johnson to pass herself off as a dancer). The 42nd Street references (and I’m referring to Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 musical now) are more overtly stated than before and the mousey teacher’s abrupt suicide reminded me of the pianist’s in Pasolini’s Salo.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria doesn’t drag anything like as much as I’d feared it would and Tilda Swinton’s Kind Hearts And Coronets” turn is significantly less irritating than it could have been. Incidental pleasures include a tiny role for Jessica Harper (the original Suzy Banyon) and a somewhat larger one for the marvellous (and far too little seen, these days) Renée Soutendijk from Spetters, constantly snarking away over some malign gag that only she gets. It’s also quite amusing from a 2020 perspective to see these holistic health freaks chain smoking away like bastards.

In conclusion, Suspiria 2018 is nowhere near as appalling as I’d expected, which isn’t to say that I’m likely to ever watch it again…. two-and-a-half hours of my time is more than enough. I sincerely hope we’ll be spared a four hour “Amazon Original” take on Inferno. No need to worry about a Mother Of Tears rehash because as Darrell Buxton has already pointed out, that’s covered in the mystifying, messy and decidedly overripe final thirty minutes of Guadagnino’s film. The whole experience would have been much more satisfying if they’d changed the title / character names and generally cut back on the allusions to Argento’s masterpiece, riffing on Suspiria 1977 in the same way that Midsommar riffs on The Wicker Man. Courting direct comparisons with what is probably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made was never going to work out to this film’s advantage. On the other hand…

Crystal Eyes / “Mirada De Cristal” (Argentina, 2017). Directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano.

During a catwalk show designed to let the world know what a tortured existence supermodels lead (“… trapped in a shop window with no escape”), the obnoxious, coke addled Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) manages to monumentally piss off everybody (going so far as to scar her make up artist for life, with scalding coffee) before accidentally incinerating herself. Most of the tears shed for her are blatantly crocodilian, but an unspecified admirer, somebody who spends their time obsessively watching a VHS compilation of Alexis’ greatest media moments, is also watching out for her legacy. The formidable Lucia Uccello (Silvia Montanari), publisher of the fashion bible Atilla, decides to stage a tribute event on the first anniversary of Alexis’ death, pitting a posse of bitchy models into competition with each other to fill the Jimmy Choos of the former colleague they so despised. In protest or as some misguided tribute of their own, Alexis’ brother and boyfriend decide to steal some of her dresses before they can be used in the show, only for the latter to have his throat cut by a murderous mannequin. He won’t be the last, as the extravagantly disguised killer steadily works his or her way through everybody who was present on that fateful night. Will the tribute show be haunted by this Phantom of the catwalk? Well, what do you think…

Just about any frozen frame from writer / directors Endelman and Montejano’s Crystal Eyes would probably invoke the spirit of Argento’s Suspiria more effectively than is managed during 152 minutes of Guadagnino’s “reimagining”. Clearly conceived without any substantial aspirations whatsoever, this Argentinian effort is an unabashed open love letter to the Italian horror and thriller traditions, a sentiment that will be enthusiastically seconded by legions of admirers around the world. I really can’t abide those Cattet / Forzani desperate Arthouse wannabes, nor those bigger budgeted productions which take the same lazy tack of grafting prime Morricone or Trovajoli cuts onto their “Original Soundtracks” in an attempt to cop some facile giallo cachet, but Crystal Eyes is a different matter altogether, a seriously devotional exercise.

Endelman and Montejano are clearly enthusiastic consumers of all things Yellow and gleefully plunder their favourites for scenes to restage. Carlo Vanzina’s 1985 effort Nothing Underneath (the very title of which riffed on the ol’ “style / substance” chestnut), its sort of sequel Too Beautiful To Die (directed by Dario Piana in 1988) and their end of cycle ilk are heavily referenced, but the directors don’t hesitate to delve right back into the archives of couture slaughter, revisiting Mario Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964) for the murder of one of Lucia’ sexy lesbian “nieces” (it was either Nadia or Nidia but I’m buggered if I can tell one from the other). The film’s climax will bring back welcome memories of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987), too, while Pablo Fuu’s score strikes exactly the right notes for late ‘80s giallo.

Endelman and Montejano were also responsible for the film’s production design and have done a remarkable job recreating the decor of (the original) Suspiria (Lucia’s office comes complete with a dagger plumaged phoenix statue) on the cheap. Cinematographers Cecilia Casas and Vanina Gottardi alternate between the Luciano Tovoli look on Argento’s classic and what Romano Albani wrought on his follow up, Inferno. Outrageous matte shots of city scapes contribute further knowing nods to the influence of Bava and as for that drawer full of Hitchcock artifacts…

Stylistic exercises as sterile as those aforementionend Cattet / Forzani efforts are hardly the most captivating cinematic experiences. Crystal Eyes, in sharp contrast, effectively corrals its cornucopia of stylish genre allusions into a teeming subtext that will tax the brains of those sufficiently versed in the wilder highways and byways of Pasta Paura. It won’t be too hard, for instance, for any horror fan raised on “video nasties” to spot the significance of Lucio the blind lift attendant (Andrés Borghi) and his cataracts, nor to look, er, beyond that and get the reference to a fractured pipe in the basement (send for Joe the plumber!) but how many viewers took Lucio’s blindness as a cue to extrapolate the killer’s identity from what happened in Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971)? I certainly did… and as it happened I was completely wrong, though Endelman and Montejano have a ball leading us up and down such garden paths throughout their picture.

Essentially as camp as a row of tents, this Fray Bentos thriller is played sufficiently straight faced to pass for a convincing latter day spaghetti slasher… which is, if I can stretch a banal geographical point (and for a film as enjoyable as this, why wouldn’t I?) exactly what it is.

The original and still the best…
Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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