Dario Argento Returns to Giallo Form in Dark Glasses Just Long Enough to Tease Us

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Dario Argento Returns to Giallo Form in <i>Dark Glasses</i> Just Long Enough to Tease Us

Saying Dark Glasses is my favorite Dario Argento production over the last decade (at minimum) doesn’t mean the giallo master’s returned to Deep Red or Suspiria shape. Comparisons to Dracula 3D and Giallo are like comparing American Italian restaurants to coastal Italian eateries. Argento returns to the giallo roots that made him famous, but Dark Glasses is still a scattershot mess without any tonal or storytelling command. Opening sequences gush with profoundly reddened imagery that reminds of the Argento of old until the script’s knees begin to wobble, eventually keeling over despite a brisk 85-minute runtime.

Ilenia Pastorelli stars as gorgeous luxury escort Diana, known around Via Veneto hotels in Rome. Unfortunately, it’s dangerous times for Diana’s profession—a serial killer has recently claimed three call girls after appointments. Diana becomes the next target of “The Cellist” (who slices and asphyxiates victims with cello string), and while evading the maniac via automobile, loses her eyesight—and potentially orphans innocent child Chin (Andrea Zhang)—during a Cellist-instigated wreck. Blind, paranoid and grief-stricken, Diana must learn to live without vision while a madman still pursues.

Argento establishes the stalk-by-night danger of Dark Glasses with giallo prestige as gloopy blood rivers rush from sliced necks between cobblestone gaps. Wire tightens around a centerfold sex worker’s throat as leathery black gloves pull the murder string until what looks like marinara sauce springs like a faucet—it’s a scene we’ve encountered countless times throughout Italian horror, here a subgenre comfort. Composer Arnaud Rebotini finds a balance between Goblin-esque orchestral eeriness and banger DJ synth energies, elevating the sensual excitement that layers on like greasy-filmy grime. It’s a promising invitation to Dark Glasses until the immersion fades; the sinful slasher mystery lacks stamina.

Dark Glasses barrels clumsily forward with a focus on Diana, after Mr. Cellist’s already claimed two lives—the third is our introduction to Diana’s imminent danger. Once Diana loses sight (due to head trauma hemorrhaging), she becomes a protector of Chin, which features buddy elements as the blind sex worker hides her orphan runaway (mom’s in a coma), while Argento’s narrative crumbles. Asia Argento enters the frame as Rita, Diana’s Blind Society aid, as Chin and Rita teach Diana how to approach her career and lifestyle with empowerment—but The Cellist’s intrigue fades. Italian police investigators are hapless buffoons while the mood doesn’t survive its somber shift into reassembling broken characters. Adorable yet fiercely protective companion seeing-eye dogs and Chin’s adolescent wisdom only endear us so much.

And so Dark Glasses presses onward, this spastically random stumble of dimwitted decisions asking for trouble without the giallo shadow that once threateningly loomed. Pastorelli is granted her time to shine as an independent woman who must navigate eternal darkness and find the light at the end of her proverbial tunnel—but our enthusiasm deflates scene after scene. Argento chucks his signature obscurity on screen, like an out-of-nowhere encounter with water snakes while Diana and Chin hide from The Cellist in marshy grass. Still, we’re left with better memories of the bloodlust that welcomes us into Dark Glasses. Sloppy structural transitions between profitable bedroom escapades and anxious escapes from white vans brings the momentum to a perpetual simmer, robbing us of a proper climax that matches the film’s enticing foreplay.

Dark Glasses is forgettable. It’s also an upgrade for contemporary Dario Argento. This is the most I’ve enjoyed Argento, shifting back to simpleton slasher basics slathered in giallo colorization, for a while. Dark Glasses doesn’t have the staying power to keep thrusting viewers into fits of pleasurable hunter-killer frights, which is a shame because Argento starts with such cinematic gusto. Allure withers, emotional beats whiff and Dark Glasses limps towards a finale that seems to have gotten lost along the journey. Go ahead and make your own “premature gratification” pun; it’s the most valid criticism.

Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, Carlo Lucarelli
Starring: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Andrea Zhang
Release Date: September 22, 2022 (Shudder)

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.