(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)

Welcome to Fantastic Fest, day four. In this diary entry: one of the best horror remakes ever, the most violent action movie I’ve ever seen, and a long-lost cult classic in the making.

suspiria post-credits scene

Suspiria is an Intoxicating and Bewitching Experience

Remaking a horror movie as singular and iconic as Dario Argento’s Suspiria sounds like a fool’s errand, an excuse for even the most talented filmmaker to stumble. But let’s give all the credit necessary to Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino – his revised take on the creepy tale of a Berlin dance academy that houses a coven of witches belongs in the same conversation as David Cronenberg’s The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing. This is one of the best horror remakes ever made and like the best remakes, it refuses to follow the path of the original and instead sets out to do its own thing. This isn’t Argento’s Suspiria – this is a Suspiria that only Guadagnino could have made.

Those familiar with the original film will realize immediately that this Suspiria has a new set of priorities. The biggest revelations of the original film are revealed in the opening minutes of the remake, a film that then proceeds to run a full hour longer than Argento’s. It’s almost comical how much Guadagnino has on his mind and how efficiently screenwriter David Kajganich burns through the familiar to make room for the new. The film even ditches the bold, color-coded abstract look that defined the original, existing in muted winter tones that allow this film to feel-lived in and real, a sharp contrast from Argento’s surreal nightmare realm.

If Suspiria 1977 wanted to scare and unsettle you, Suspiria 2018 wants to intoxicate you, to lure you into a world filled with detail and character rather than repel you. Even when the remake gets nasty (and yes, it sure gets nasty), there’s an odd balance at play. You want to explore every nook and cranny of this strange and brutal world, whose rules unveil themselves at their own special pace.

Honestly, one could spend thousands of words comparing and contrasting the two Suspirias, dissecting the new choices and updates and changes. Part of what makes this new take so fascinating is what Guadagnino chooses to embrace and what he chooses to reject. But even as the film ultimately descends into brutal chaos that will make even the most hardened genre fan’s head spin, it’s the tether to the real world that lingers. Suspiria was set in 1977 Berlin by default in the original movie, but here, it becomes part of the texture of the story. This is a city still reeling from the old wounds of World War II, a city tearing open fresh wounds over political protest, a city where revolution hangs in the air like a fog. The coven of witches who operate from within a dance academy are not immune to the outside world. Rebellion leaks in through their walls, inspiring their dancers and influencing how the coven operates. If the politics of running a clan of witches sounds fascinating, then buckle up – Suspiria is your new favorite movie.

At the center of it all is a fearless performance from Dakota Johnson as the newest addition to the dance company, an American prodigy whose innate talent immediately puts her in the spotlight. Johnson is good enough to share the screen with the great Tilda Swinton, whose dance instructor/powerful witch leans into everything you want from the actress. Ethereal, weird, and charming, Swinton glides through Suspiria like a supernatural force, counterbalanced by Johnson, who brings a harrowing physicality to a role that could have been one-dimensional. (Swinton pulls double duty, also playing the sole male character of significance in the film while buried under heavy prosthetics. It has no right to work as well as it does, but Swinton is a one-of-a-kind genius and all.)

When the credits roll on Suspiria, you feel drunk from the experience. This is a hard film to write about and it kills me that I can’t see it again before having to knock out this blurb. What I do know is that it’s a movie that ranks as one of 2018’s greatest theater-going experiences, a 152-minute whirlwind of magic and evil and beauty that invites you to indulge in its mysteries while embracing you with its torn, bleeding heart. It’s a film about change and rebirth (even when that process is messy and painful and unforgiving), which feels right for a movie that feels so…revolutionary.

You’ve never seen a movie quite like Suspiria – and how often can you say that about a remake?

The Night Comes For Us May be the Most Violent Action Movie Ever Made

When The Night Comes For Us presses pause on the action, you start to ask questions. You start to notice that many plot details don’t make a lot of sense. You start to wonder why certain characters are doing what they’re doing. You start to notice the pace slowing to a crawl. Fortunately, writer/director Timo Tjahjanto rarely pushes pause. This is an action movie that is almost entirely action, with the pauses in-between the various brawls and shootouts feeling like they exist because we just need a minute to catch our breath. Because it’s not long before Tjahjanto is plunging us back into the thick of it. You’ll never see a film more impatient to get back to killing and mauling every single character on screen.

That’s no exaggeration. The Night Comes For Us may be the most violent action movie ever made, a production that looks at The Raid and The Raid 2 and says “Yeah, I think we can top that and then some.” It even stars Raid actors like Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, and Julie Estelle, whose mere presence acts as a shorthand. You want to see the most badass Indonesians in existence fuck up every single sorry excuse for a henchman who crosses their path? Of course you do. And their names in the credits promise just that.

The story here is thin and familiar and it shatters into a million shards (like the bones of so many people in this movie) once things get going. That’s fine. Characters don’t evolve or learn lessons here. They just kill each other. Anyway, you’ve seen this premise before: a brutal Triad enforcer (Taslim) chooses to save a young girl rather than execute her. What happens next is what’s fresh: a monstrous war between him and his allies and countless machete-wielding criminals (led by Uwais) who are under orders to not tolerate traitors. Limbs are hacked off, heads are crushed, necks are snapped, bowels are removed, and human bodies are transformed into broken piles of red wreckage. Just when you think Tjahjanto has run out of ways to stage human beings decimating each other, he changes location, and introduces a new collection of weapons and a fresh batch of bad guys. Human life has never mattered less than it does in The Night Comes For Us – some fight scenes, some death scenes, boggle the mind in their staging and make you wonder just how this movie was made without actually murdering a couple dozen Indonesian stunt performers.

It’s hard to call this a complete movie. Complete movies have things like stories and character arcs. Their action beats connect plot points and serve to further a grander ambition. But Tjahjanto doesn’t want to make a complete movie as much as he wants to make the most gruesome, immersive, head-spinning experience imaginable. You’ve never seen action staged quite like this, you’ve never seen a body count this high, and you’ve never seen heroes tear through their enemies with this kind of ferocity. The Night Comes For Us would be a horror movie if it wasn’t staged with such giddy excitement. It’s violent enough to feel irresponsible, but that’s also its chief appeal. Tjahjanto’s last movie, Headshot, stumbled when it decided to focus on its cliche-ridden, soapy story. He does not make the same mistake here.

With no sign of The Raid 3 ever happening, The Night Comes For Us feels like the natural successor to that series. It borrows the same actors, it borrows the same relentlessness, and it goes out of its way to find new ways for human beings to destroy each other for our amusement. By the time the final fight rolls around, a one-on-one battle to the death where both fighters absorb enough punishment to kill 10 ordinary combatants, it’s clear this is some kind of instant-classic. It’s the action genre brought to its logical conclusion – two hours of exquisitely staged, ferocious action and little more, performed by people who allow it to look as difficult as it actually is, but directed by a filmmaker who makes it look effortless.

Deadly Games is a Long-Lost Christmas Horror Gem

In the late ’80s, René Manzor directed Deadly Games (known in its native France as 3615 Code Père Noël), an independently produced Christmas horror movie that never received an American release (or even a wide European release). And because Fantastic Fest is as dedicated to preserving the foggy corners of genre film history as it is to debuting new movies, the fest hosted the first proper North American screening of this long-lost, deeply weird, super-dark gem. Recently restored, the film is a gonzo classic waiting to be discovered by a generation weaned on ’80s cinema.

Playing like a blend of classic Amblin and a grindhouse nightmare, Deadly Games follows a the wealthy son of a toy store owner as he does battle with a home invader on Christmas Eve using his collection of gadgets and gizmos as a final line of defense. Of course, the home invader is dressed as Santa Claus and the kid thinks he’s battling the real deal. Cue 90 minutes of cat-and-mouse, wild booby traps, harsh death scenes, goofy comedy, and even a Bonnie Tyler-sung theme song.

To say “this shit is nuts” would be an understatement. It would be tempting to call this a more brutal version of Home Alone, but as Manzor reminded the audience after the screening, Deadly Games was made before that film…and it was widely seen in Hollywood even though it was never properly released, with Steven Spielberg numbering among its biggest fans (Manzor didn’t take things a step further and make any actual accusations about his work being ripped off, but having seen the movie, I wouldn’t blame him).

With production value comparable to something like Gremlins and The Goonies, Deadly Games emerges in 2018 feeling like a bonafide ’80s classic. It is astonishing that it hasn’t been remade given how slick and entertaining it is. Then again, it is also a singular, personal experiment – the film fluctuates between goofy humor and grim horror in a manner that still feels dangerous and the overtly silly, kid-friendly first act feels like vicious bait for unsuspecting viewers. Come for the wacky family comedy! But stay for the, uh, murder.

In other words, this thing is a must-see and should the opportunity arise, take it.

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