152 minutes/Opens Friday (Jan 4) at GV Paya Lebar/3.5 stars
The story: Susie (Dakota Johnson), a naive American from a religious family, has come to West Berlin in 1977 to train at an elite modern dance academy and becomes a star pupil under the tutelage of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). She is a witness to a few strange events, such as the disappearance of another student, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), but her time is spent making new friends, such as classmate Sara (Mia Goth). Loosely based on the classic supernatural horror movie of the same name, directed by Dario Argento and released in 1977.
At two and a quarter hours in length, this homage to the 1977 original feels more like a languorous black magic ritual of the sort the women in the story perform than a dashed-off love letter.
Thankfully, Italian director Luca Guadagnino makes much of that stretched-out running time count, though one's patience is still put to the test.
The helmer of the romantic story Call Me By Your Name (2017) and the drama A Bigger Splash (2015, also starring Swinton and Johnson) has created a movie that bears only a passing resemblance to the revered original - in a few plot details, characters and the supernatural framework.
Instead of drenching his frames in super-saturated primary colours, as Argento did, Guadagnino opts for chilly browns and greys. Argento went for a beat-heavy rock soundtrack courtesy of Italian progressive rock band Goblin; Guadagnino prefers the melodic wail and synths of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
And in the background of the new film, festering political wounds, opened in Palestine and Nazi Germany, manifest themselves as acts of terrorism. More themes are revealed: the weirdness of motherhood, and how the cultish worship of strong leaders only encourages elites to see the faithful as not much more than a food source.
None of the film's many ideas, however, are developed. They are hinted at, then discarded.
There is very little of what one might expect to come from an R21-rated work of arthouse horror set in an all-female modern dance academy. Susie (Johnson) never experiences a sexual coming-of-age, for example - this is not Black Swan (2010) - nor does Guadagnino have any interest in any physical experience other than suffering.
And suffer the characters do. The director uses every trick known to modern film prosthetics to create a work that offers more than atmospheric chills. Bodies are punished in a manner rarely seen outside of the torture porn genre.
Under its arthouse skin, this film has a heart of pure grindhouse.