Dario Argento is one of the most iconic horror auteurs of all time. Argento along with Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci are the faces of the giallo horror subgenre. Taking cues from a series of paperback crime novels with yellow covers – “giallo” is “yellow” in Italian – this subgenre inspired millions of filmmakers to create their own bloody and thrilling stories. The films constituting this subgenre are crafty and stylish, oozing flair. Argento has made some of the most well-known horror features, like Suspiria (one of my favorite horror films of all time), Deep Red, Tenebre, and Opera. Each of these has several images that everyone who watched them has pierced into their minds. After ten years of absence since his total failure of Dracula 3D, the legend is back to directing with Dark Glasses (Occhiali Neri), which had its premiere at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
This isn’t close to being a return to form, but it’s great to see him back doing what he loves: making films and shocking the audience. Dark Glasses begins with the presence of an eclipse, which would later intertwine with the loss of sight that the main character, Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli, whose performance on occasions seems like a balance between endearing and slapstick), will suffer later on in the first act. “Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily,” says one of Diana’s clients. And immediately after the title card arrives, Argento starts doing his horror-thriller tricks without hesitation. The screen is pitch black to match the aesthetic of the eclipse. In addition, there’s a banging 90s-esque techno score in the background. Knowing that this is a Giallo picture, one knows the movie’s first kill will arrive.
A serial killer is haunting high-end prostitutes as they make their way home. Sooner rather than later, the killer will chase Diana. However, the killer’s motives are one of the most ridiculous parts of Dark Glasses. In addition, the killer’s identity reveal felt unconvincing. If you have seen Argento’s films or those of his copycats or contemporaries, there isn’t much of a “mystery” in the narrative. When the killer tries to pursue her via a car chase, she suffers an accident that leaves her blind and kills Chin’s parents. The car crash seems realistically improbable. It’s exaggeratedly staged, as Argento has been used to doing for the latter half of his lengthy career. After that sequence, you start to think the exaggerations are on purpose. However, it has a weird tonal disparity between self-awareness and self-seriousness.
At its core, Dark Glasses is basically no more than a B-horror movie or a midnight drive-in chiller. Every single facet screams such comparison, from its cheap, practical effects to the straightforward story. B-horror movies are delightful on their own, believe me, I watch plenty of them. The problem, in this case, is that it’s just too dull and trepid. In the last couple of years, several films had B-movie sensibilities and did them properly (Studio 666, the Slumber Party Massacre remake, Saloum, amongst others). This Giallo slasher has some sort-of stylized set-pieces that entertain the audience for a couple of seconds. However, a couple of seconds do not qualify as being memorable.
Argento decides to move the action from the claustrophobic apartments to the muddy countryside for its last act. This choice makes up for an even more unassuming conclusion. The highlight is that the lead characters step into a lake with snakes in it. However, the main problem is that there’s no clarity as to what exactly is happening. You can’t see clearly due to the poor lighting. You could say that it adds an element of tension since Diana is blind, and the viewer is in the dark with her, but the action needs to be visible, which in Dark Glasses, it is not. As the story progresses, the tension decreases. Of course, there are a good amount of kills and scenes of gore. Albeit, they arrive without that flair and flash one has seen in the famed director’s work.
We are far from the depths of Dracula 3D, and thank goodness for that. But this still pales in comparison to classics like Suspiria and Deep Red. In the last two decades, Argento’s only hit was back in 2001 with the Stefano Dionisi-led Sleepless. And with Dark Glasses, it’s clear that Sleepless feels more and more like an anomaly. For Dark Glasses is not just a disappointment, it’s also an anticlimactic B-horror feature with cheap thrills and occasional risible sequences. Argento shocked me with his performance in Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, but I think he stunned me even more with how dreary this turned out to be. – Hector Gonzalez
Dark Glasses will stream on Shudder in fall 2022.