It’s been a while since we talked about Dario Argento, hasn’t it? Italy’s “Master of Horror” has had an undeniably influential career that cannot be matched. Aside from bringing Giallo to American audiences, he’s haunted us with zombies, witches, and demons (oh my!). His career was strong for decades, but when everyone’s favorite director hits a slump in their later years, Argento fell off a summit and seemed to try and fail to take off again like a bird with a broken wing. It’s common knowledge among horror fans that The Stendhal Syndrome is the last great Argento film (The Card Player is debatable), while the rest lack a percentage of the effort he put in up to that point. My theory is the loss of rival horror master, Lucio Fulci, left him without reason to push forward and he was just keen to coast. His last film could have been 2012’s Dracula 3D, which at least has the visual look of a 90’s FMV game to keep it interesting. There was that Iggy Pop, Sandman based film seemed to rob its Kickstarter backers, but we’ll turn a blind eye to that in order to segway into his first completed feature in almost a decade: Dark Glasses. Has the time away from the director's seat brought back that style and energy, or is this the final nail in the career coffin?
Following a bad encounter with a potential client, high-class lady of the night Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) is targeted by “The Cellist” a prostitute killing maniac in a white van. A car chase ensues that leads to Diana t-boning a Chinese family at an intersection, leaving her blinded and the family’s son Chin (Xinyu Zhang) orphaned. Racked with guilt, Diana takes Chin under her wing as she adjusts her lifestyle to the changes her disability brings. But we wouldn’t have a movie if the killer just moved on, and The Cellist is more determined than ever to finish Diana off, regardless of who else gets in the way.
Let’s get the positives out of the way first. Black Strobe’s Arnaud Rebotini provides one of the best Argento scores in years. It’s not Goblin, but that first track will bring a smile to your face that’ll take you back to a simpler time, where an Italian score was inappropriately upbeat and made you jazzed for the gratuitous violence to follow. If anything, this is an advertisement to buy the soundtrack on whichever platform it's available on. This is also the first time Argento has filmed a car chase since the 70’s, shot well by Matteo Cocco. And you better like vehicular homicide, because this film definitely spoils you with it.
The first death scene definitely lures you in with the idea that you’re going to witness the over-the-top deaths we long for, but by the middle of the movie they become inconsistent, clumsy, and stale. After the inciting incident, the film dries out until around the halfway point where the film remembers it’s a horror film and introduces two new characters just to kill them off in the next scene. And one of the deaths will suddenly make you appreciate the “car door” kill in Halloween Kills. These kills are pretty uninspired, especially when the killer’s MO is supposedly strangling woman with cello wire. You’re better off watching that one episode of Hannibal for a better string instrument inspired killer. You’d also think he’d maybe want to change vehicles after he’s captured on security cameras, but hey, cars are expensive. I have to admire the Cellist’s taste in movies though since he’s watched Maniac 2012 for inspiration.
As far as casting goes, you have to take performances with a grain of salt as directing actors was never Argento’s top priority. Ilenia Pastorelli is giving it her all as Diana, resourceful and able to handle herself at first, before playing a convincingly helpless woman adjusting to the disability that has been thrust upon her. You can definitely tell this is Xinyu Zhang’s first role. Any initial sympathy you feel for his character is gone out the window as soon as he opens his mouth. Yup, he’s a kid in a horror film alright and he’s as annoying as that sounds. And since this is an Argento film, his daughter Asia has a supporting role as Diana’s new social worker. Since this film has been in development hell for two decades, you can tell this role was initially written for her and this new role is expanded just to give her something to work with.
Dark Glasses is definitely a missed opportunity for what could have been a good return to form for the master of Giallo. Visually, it’s on par with The Mother of Tears. With lackluster kills and basic set design, this looks like a film that could have been made by any director, and is only getting traction from the name attached. Argento could have unofficially remade 1967’s Wait Until Dark, and it would have made for a much more interesting take. Even in some of Argento’s lesser outputs, there’s at least something tangibly memorable, something out of left field. I’ll give it this positive, Dark Glasses does redeem the treatment of the blind pianist, Daniel, in Suspiria. Sadly, this may be the end of an era for Argento that goes out with a whimper.
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