January 28, 2019  (Web Review)


Lionsgate, 152 min., R, Blu-ray: $24.99, Jan. 29

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

Dario Argento’s titular 1977 original film—the story of a young woman who enrolls in a German dance school only to discover that the staff is actually a coven of witches—is a silly, largely incoherent horror movie that is memorable for its garish visuals, pulsating score, and rollercoaster pace. By contrast, Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake (or reimagining) turns the lurid tale into an artsy, pretentiously lugubrious exercise that snuffs much of the life out of its tawdry source. The plot remains the same, but whereas for Argento it was just an occasion for a wild symphony of weirdness, Guadagnino uses it as a skeleton to build a fable on about the emergence of female strength in a wounded male world. Transposed to the divided Berlin of 1977, with persistent allusions to the grim historical circumstances of the time, this remake expands the story of American would-be ballerina Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) and her dance master Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) to include a secondary plot strand about Dr. Josef Klemperer (also played by Swinton in heavy makeup, though billed as Lutz Ebersdorf), a doddering psychologist who investigates the school while grieving the loss of his wife during the war. The two plot threads converge in a grand finale in which the coven’s ultimate purpose is revealed. Guadagnino achieves some striking imagery, but his attempt to turn Argento’s goofy, tackily vibrant fever dream into a dark and profound nightmare only makes the viewer long for the original. Optional. (F. Swietek)