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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Suspiria

"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

As a fan of Dario Argento’s strikingly colorful 1977 horror fairy tale “Suspira,” I went into the 2018 remake by Luca Guadagnino with cautious optimism. Guadagnino in interviews has stated that he wanted to create a modern day experience similar to what he experienced when he first saw Argento’s movie. A daunting task indeed. One of the reasons that Argento’s movie has stood the test of time is because it taps into primal fears and has some genuine surprises guaranteed to shock first time viewers, no matter what decade they’re watching it in.

On both of these points, Guadagnino succeeds—some would even say that he succeeds to excess. I think he hit the shock and gore level just right, without going to excesses. That said, there is a fair bit of it as the movie kicks into overdrive for its sixth and final act (as we’re told at the opening, “Suspiria” is told in six acts and an epilogue).

Guadagnino also makes a smart move by doing things his own way. Gone is the vibrant Technicolor palate of the original, here replaced by the gray and gloom of a divided Berlin in 1977 during the “German Autumn”—the height of tensions between the police and the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. Also gone are the more fantastical, bump in the night fairy tale elements of the original. The 2018 movie goes for a more immediate version of witches’ magick, rather than the aloof “I put a hex on you” meddling of the original movie.

As different as this movie is from its source material, the basic elements are still there. Promising young American dance student Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) goes to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy run by the eminent Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Once there, she hears of a former student named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz, proving that there are no small parts) who ran out after making a horrifying discovery about the teachers there. Patricia’s last contact was with her friend Sara (Mia Goth), whom Susie comes to befriend. This leads the two young ladies down a dark path in which they too discover the same secret that Patricia did and need to act quickly to save themselves.

The opening scene with Patricia and psychologist Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton again, in excellent make up) is riveting, draws us in, and sets the stage beautifully for the puzzle pieces that are about to fall into place regarding the goings-on at the academy. We then meet Susie, who is from a Mennonite family and has always dreamed of training under Madame Blanc. A fair amount of attention is paid to the dancing in “Suspiria” and Johnson moves her body quite well—with or without music. Her thrusting, undulating, and writhing about on the floor are far more titillating and sensual than anything she did in all three “50 Shades” movies put together. Finally, with this movie, we have a showcase for her acting talent as well as her physical prowess.

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As a fan of the original movie, I liked that Guadagnino found a part for Jessica Harper, the original Susie Bannion, to play. My gripe is that the sequence with her grinds the movie to a halt for about ten minutes, and is ultimately unnecessary. I’m torn because I’d rather see her than not see her, so I’m glad she wasn’t cut, but I wish she was given a different cameo role to play, perhaps as Miss Tanner (played by Angela Winkler instead), whose role as dance instructor is greatly reduced from when the part was played in 1977 by the forceful and domineering Alida Valli.

Guadagnino’s film is more than a remake and it deserves to be more than a footnote in film history, relegated to the shadow of the original. It’s a unique creation in its own eerie way, with scenes that are shocking and disturbing in their own right. Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” may be a bit long at two and a half hours, and some of the scenes of brutality will certainly upset the squeamish, but this artsy take on a modern day dark fairy tale does what all good art should do: It challenges us. I, for one, accept. Buy it.

Also New This Week

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Even without the Disney logo preceding the opening credits for “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” I could tell it’s a Disney movie. How? Two words: Dead mother. This has been a Disney staple since their first feature length foray onto the big screen in 1937 with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” There is a comfort in knowing that even after 81 years, there are some things Disney fans can still rely on.

But this dead Disney mother isn’t just any dead Disney mother. She was the queen of a magical, otherworldy realm in which she used her technical skills to build a machine that brought dolls—including nutcrackers—to life. After her death, she bequeathed to her equally technologically skilled daughter Clara (Mackenzie Foy) a difficult to open music box that Clara believes will be the answer she didn’t even know she needs.

The first part of “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” largely revolves around Clara chasing a rascally mouse to get the key to open the box. She succeeds, but the movie disappoints in that the big reveal is a big nothing. It’s one thing for a movie’s characters to have wasted their time. It’s another thing entirely for an audience to get that same feeling.

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With not much else to do, the movie throws a twist at us that defies rational explanation based on what we’ve already seen. To call this plot murky is an insult to all of the fine bogs, bayous, and swamps out there for which murky is a fitting and apt description. “Nutcracker” goes beyond murk and straight into nonsense.

As if the confusing plot and first act exercise in futility weren’t bad enough, the look of this movie is way too much. It’s gaudy, garish, and overproduced. Hey, I appreciate imagination. There certainly is plenty here with the sets and costumes. However, I also appreciate at least some semblance of self control—of which this movie has none.

Having gotten all of the problems off of my chest, there is something about this movie that drew me in. In spite of all of the issues, I liked Clara and appreciated what the film makers were trying to do—ham-fisted though they were in doing it. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” may be a lavishly overdone mess, but for lack of anything on a slow weekend while flipping through the options on your streaming service of choice, this isn’t a total waste. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Boy, Erased,” in which the son of a Baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program, written and directed by Joel Edgerton and starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Edgerton, Russell Crowe; “Hunter Killer,” in which an untested American submarine captain teams with U.S. Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general, starring Gary Oldman, Gerard Butler, Common, and Michael Nyqvist; and “Reign of the Supermen,” a sequel to the 2018 animated film "The Death of Superman," with the voice talents of Gerard Jones, Dan Jurgens, and Karl Kesel.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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