Dario Argento returns with a reprise of his greatest giallo
Dir. Dario Argento. Italy/ France. 2022. 87 mins.
The blood is still profondo rosso, but otherwise Dark Glasses is a strictly anaemic affair from Dario Argento, the godfather of Italian giallo horror. A by-the-book woman-in-peril chiller – with a kid in peril added to up the ante – the director’s first film since 2012’s Dracula 3D has a few moments of flamboyant style, but these are surface trimmings on a preposterous, creakily old-school number. The time would seem right for Dark Glasses, as Argento’s stock is riding high at the moment, with Luca Guadagnino’s remake of his classic Suspiria and his own impressive acting role in Gaspar Noé’s Vortex. But while fans will no doubt be glad to see him back, they may be dismayed by the lack of imagination on display here.
The film unpacks few surprises, although Argentophiles may applaud a ludicrous and copiously gory climax
Things start promisingly in Rome, in a sequence so odd that it’s worth seeing for its own sake: a young woman (Ilenia Pastorelli) drives through a quiet suburb by daylight, as people gaze at the sky through filters and dark glasses at an eclipse that casts the world into darkness. Eerily executed with ghostly slow pacing and muted background sound, the sequence comes across as a stylish – if perhaps somewhat literal – tip of the hat to Antonioni’s L’Eclisse.
The opening, however, proves a herring every bit as red as the young woman’s dress and lipstick. From there on, it’s routine slasher business. A mysterious figure known to drive a van (White Van Man, if you will) is murdering sex workers, and next in line is the woman from the opening sequence – upmarket call girl Diana (Pastorelli), who’s ominously been wearing dark glasses since the eclipse left her feeling a bit fuzzy. Before long, she’s wearing them permanently, as a pursuit results in a car crash that leaves her blind – and leaves a 7-year-old Chinese boy, Chin (solemn but personable Xinyu Zhang), in care. Diana learns to cope with her condition, assigned help from educator Rita (an uncharacteristically muted Asia Argento, the director’s daughter, regular star and cult icon in her own right) and a guide dog called Nerea, highly recommended for her protective tendencies.
Chin decides he’d be better off living with Diana than among the stroppy racist kids at the care home. The two of them become a mutually supportive and resourceful duo as they go on the run from White Van Man - who has meanwhile managed to dispose of two members of a strikingly inept, nay, Clouseau-level police team. We actually discover the killer’s identity surprisingly early, which seems a gaffe on Argento’s part – except that there’s little surprise involved anyway, while a very particular tell that might give him away to Diana ends up barely used.
Argento and DoP Matteo Cocco lay on a couple of atmospheric shadow-steeped moments in a pursuit that starts in the city, then moves to a nocturnal countryside – a race through a labyrinth of tunnels, then a wade though long undergrowth, a promisingly eerie moment that soon unravels farcically thanks to the arrival of massed water snakes.
You almost suspect that Argento is daring us to keep a straight face, although the film doesn’t come across as having much humour, or indeed self-awareness. The shameless objectifying of Pastorelli, seen in micro-skirts throughout and obligatory lingerie in one scene, would make even Paolo Sorrentino blush, and she’s a fairly one-dimensional actor – although her nervy angularity does radiate a certain frazzled energy throughout. As her plucky young sidekick, Xinyu Zhang is gamely unflappable.
The film unpacks few surprises, although Argentophiles may applaud a ludicrous and copiously gory climax. Arnaud Rebotini provides a rock/electronic score laden with rippling synths, hammering drums, Gothic organ, the whole panoply of effects that duly recall erstwhile Argento soundtrackers Goblin; it adds to the overall feeling of auto-pastiche on the director’s part, but it’s by far the best value here.
Production company: Urania Pictures, Getaway Films, Canal+
International sales: Wild Bunch International, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Conchita Airoldi, Laurentina Guidotti
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Cinematography: Matteo Cocco
Editor: Flora Volpeliere
Production design: Marcello di Carlo
Music: Arnaud Rebotini
Main cast: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Andrea Gherpelli, Xinyu Zhang