Review: DARK GLASSES, A Master of Horror Returns to the Sub-Genre He Defined
After a decade-long hiatus from filmmaking, horror auteur Dario Argento (Inferno, Suspiria, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) has returned with his latest film, Dark Glasses (Occhiali neri), a modest, occasionally middling riff on the giallo sub-genre he helped define and redefine in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Surprisingly short on the excessively baroque visual style typical of his better known works, and long on familiar tropes, Dark Glasses doesn’t qualify as anything approaching a return to form for Argento, but it’s nonetheless welcome, especially from a well-regarded filmmaker whose last effort behind the camera, Dracula 3D, justifiably received an indifferent, apathetic response from both audiences and critics in 2012.
Working from an underwritten, underdeveloped screenplay Argento co-scripted with occasional collaborator Franco Ferrini (Opera, Phenomena, Once Upon a Time in America), Dark Glasses centers on Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), an independent-minded, successful call girl with a busy schedule in and around Rome. Despite the presence of a serial killer deliberately targeting sex workers, Diana continues working out of high-end hotels with barely a second thought or worry, seemingly immune (or considering herself) immune from violence. That’s right up until she escapes the clutches of the hooded serial killer, driving away milliseconds before he can reach her car.
Diana isn’t safe from the obsessive predations of the killer, however. The killer pursues her in a white van across the darkened streets of a nighttime Rome. The exhilarating pursuit, a highlight — if not “the" highlight — of Dark Glasses, ends with a gnarly car crash that leaves Diana permanently blind and an unfortunate immigrant family waiting at an intersection devastated, the father dead, the mother in a coma, and the preteen son, Chin (Andrea Zhang), practically an orphan.
While Diana predictably tries to pick up the pieces of her now sightless life, partly with the help of an aide, Rita (Asia Argento, second billed, but here playing a minor, supporting character), sent by a local visual and mobility impaired society, and Diana's new guide dog, Nerea, a fiercely protective German Shepherd, the serial killer, obsessed with the victim who evaded his grasp, continues to stalk her, though he takes a non-urgent approach, lingering on the margins to meet the needs of the screenplay (i.e., delaying their inevitable re-encounter for as long as dramatically possible) before deciding to strike again and finish what he started.
As usual with law enforcement figures in the giallo sub-genre, IQ-challenged detectives in Dark Glasses prove to be unsurprisingly useless, unnecessarily inserting themselves into Diana's life at the worst possible time and more often than not, making things worse for everyone involved (including themselves). When Diana, in a moment of weakness presumably driven by guilt for her involvement in the car crash, temporarily takes Chin, they become an ongoing nuisance, more concerned with finding Chin and corralling Diana for breaking custody laws than protecting her or, by extension Chin, due to his immediate proximity to her.
Argento leaves little doubt as to the identity of the killer, revealing him (or her) earlier than expected, along with a rationale that can be only described as perfunctory. Given the serial killer’s focus on sex workers, a trope that’s painfully cliched and borderline misogynistic, it’s just as well that Dark Glasses keeps the focus on Diana and Chin and not the bland, under-motivated killer. Given a climax and denouement that feels rushed and thus, blunted of any real emotional impact, the closing moments confirm the sense that Dark Glasses will be placed somewhere near the bottom of Argento’s otherwise impressive oeuvre.
Dark Glasses premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2022. It begins streaming on Thursday, October 13, 2022 via Shudder and IFC Midnight.
- Dario Argento
- Dario Argento
- Franco Ferrini
- Ilenia Pastorelli
- Asia Argento
- Andrea Gherpelli