As anyone who’s been around here for any length of time knows, I love Dario Argento. Just recently, in fact, I chose 1977’s Suspiria as one of my favorite horror films, not only of 1977, but of all time. I’m also a massive fan of Argento’s early giallo movies, like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Tenebrae, and Opera. In my opinion, 1996’s Stendhal Syndrome was his last good film (although some of his post-1990s work had flashes of brilliance), and most of his movies after that ranged from mediocre to actively awful (looking at your CGI praying mantis, Dracula 3D). But in spite of this, I was actually SUPER jazzed for the 82-year-old auteur’s return to the director’s chair for 2022’s Dark Glasses (aka Black Glasses, aka Occhiali Neri). I tried to manage my expectations, because I knew that any new film he made wasn’t going to even approach the same exalted realm as his classics, but I couldn’t help but be cautiously optimistic when I sat down in front of Shudder to give it a watch.
So how was it? Well, it was…fine. A solid six or seven, if I wanted to break it down to a numerical score. It was fairly subdued and a bit predictable, maybe even clunky in spots; the acting was hit or miss; the suspense was nearly non-existent because the killer was revealed far too early; and there were a few sequences that absolutely made no sense and were sort of dumb, especially in regards to some baffling decisions some of the characters made, and the way they reacted to certain events.
On the other hand, though, it had a a handful of enjoyably nasty gore sequences and some decent visuals, a good score by French musician Arnaud Rebotini, and two of the lead performances—Ilenia Pastorelli in the main role, and Asia Argento as a significant supporting character—were largely compelling. The characters here, in fact, were actually quite interesting and sympathetic, which went a long way toward getting you emotionally invested in the story.
Keep in mind, though, that this is more on the giallo end of the scale than the horror end; as a matter of fact, I would probably call it a thriller that just happens to feature a few excessively gruesome murders, rather than a straightforward horror movie.
Adapted from a two-decade-old screenplay written by Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini and Carlo Lucarelli, and executive produced by Dario’s frequent collaborator (and daughter) Asia Argento, Dark Glasses begins with a touch of foreshadowing, as our main protagonist, high-end sex worker Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), slaps on the titular accessories in order to look at a solar eclipse. Little does she realize that said eclipse is naught but a symbol of her impending descent into darkness.
Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose in Rome, targeting upscale escorts, and one early victim meets a particularly grisly end, garroted in the street by a man concealed in some nearby bushes. After this is established, we return to Diana’s character, getting a glimpse into her workaday life, which consists of some kindly, generous clients, and a smattering of violent douchebags.
Not long into the proceedings, Diana becomes the focus of the killer, who chases her car one night with his standard-issue white van. During the frantic pursuit, Diana smashes into another vehicle containing a Chinese family: the father in the other car is killed, the mother is comatose, and the young son in the back seat—whose name is Chin (played by Andrea Chang)—is completely unharmed.
Diana is blinded in the accident, and doctors aren’t too confident that she’ll ever regain her sight. Dispirited, Diana returns home, but is cheered somewhat by the friendship of her compassionate caseworker Rita (Asia Argento), who spends much of the second act helping Diana adjust to her disability. Said adjustment includes the procuring of a seeing-eye dog, a very good girl named Nerea, who factors into the plot later on.
Aside from frustration at her new limitations, Diana also feels horribly guilty about her part in the accident that took away Chin’s parents. She goes to visit him at the orphanage, and he’s initially hostile, but eventually decides he likes Diana so much that he runs away from the orphanage in order to stay with her, which causes some trouble with the authorities, as you might imagine.
As Diana is becoming acclimatized to her new reality, however, the killer is still stalking her, and because of her blindness, she’s much more vulnerable than before. Of course she has her support system in the form of the reliable Rita and the devoted Chin, but the murderer’s pursuit puts their lives in danger as well, and it all comes to a somewhat tepid climax in the third act, as Diana is forced to confront the killer.
As I said, this one wasn’t great, but it wasn’t really all that bad either. It’s certainly much better than his last abomination (2012’s Dracula 3D), and in a lot of ways, it’s sort of a throwback to the giallo films of the 70s, or a pastiche of Argento’s own previous works in that genre. It has some moments of batshittery, especially the bewildering scene with the water snakes, and the characters sometimes make some perplexing choices; for example, the two cops investigating Chin’s whereabouts pull some questionable shit toward Diana and then seemingly forget any police training they might have received when the killer comes toward them, but maybe Italian police are really this antagonistic and witless, so for all I know this portrayal could be entirely accurate.
The best parts of the movie were the first act and, surprisingly, the character stuff in the middle with Diana learning her way around her blindness with Rita and Chin’s help, because it gave something of a depth that characters in Argento’s movies don’t usually have. The third act, though, which was mostly comprised of an extended escape from the killer, felt oddly inert and underwhelming, and the final scene was just really flat and strange. Unlike a standard giallo film, there weren’t many potential suspects to focus on, and in any case, the killer was fairly obvious from quite early in the film. Maybe Argento realized this, and actually revealed the killer fully about halfway through the (only 86-minute) film, but to me, this drained the story of any suspense, and I have to be honest, the killer’s motivation for his crimes was pretty underwritten and lame.
In spite of all the negatives and caveats, though, I would recommend this to Argento fans who are curious, given they go into it not expecting much. I don’t think Dark Glasses will turn any new fans on to his work, and frankly if this hadn’t been made by Argento I think it would just be forgotten about, but as a director, he’s certainly done much worse. It was absolutely decent enough to make me hope that he’ll be able to make another film, because there were some interesting ideas in here that I think could be pushed further, especially if he decided to make another giallo.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.