Argento’s Dark Glasses a Satisfyingly Nasty Return to Form
A serial killer is hunting prostitutes in Rome. Their latest target is seductive high-priced escort Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli). A chase through the midnight streets results in an epic car crash, and while Diana survives, her injuries leave the young woman blind. The accident also ends with adolescent immigrant Chin (Xinyu Zhang) an orphan, both his parents killed in all the automotive carnage.
Dark Glasses is legendary writer-director Dario Argento’s best film in almost two decades, which honestly isn’t saying all the much considering his last few efforts include the likes of Dracula 3-D, Mother of Tears, and The Card Player. While unsurprisingly not rising to the classic heights of Tenebrae, Deep Red, or Suspiria, this is still a fast-paced, suitably gruesome Giallo that gets the job done. Even if it does play a bit like an “Argento Greatest Hits” compilation album I still enjoyed the heck out of this one, and I’ll happily watch the film again when the opportunity to do so comes my way.
It’s a given that Diana and Chin are going to end up together. It is equally obvious that the killer will not be satisfied with only maiming his chosen victim and will come looking for her as soon the opportunity to do so presents itself. There will be a cadre of charismatic – if still moderately clueless – police detectives who end on the case, and a variety of increasingly dangerous events will force Diana and Chin into a corner where “flight” becomes impossible and “fight” is the only option remaining to the pair.
The director’s talented daughter Asia Argento is on hand as a caring and patient instructor who helps newly blind adults navigate through their new reality, and I’m happy to say that she shares instant chemistry with Pastorelli from the first second they appear on-screen together. There’s also a wonderful canine performance that’s a bit different than how Argento typically showcases guide dogs in his pictures (think the poor blind piano player in Suspiria), and it’s refreshing to see a heroic “good boy” given the star treatment by the director for once.
This is definitely a mood piece, as almost everything that happens throughout the quickly-paced 86 minutes is relatively preordained. I had the killer pegged early on, but I also think Argento knew that was going to be the case so at roughly the midway point just stops trying to conceal the psychopath’s identity. There are also elements of the director’s famed “Animal Trilogy” of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet littered throughout, almost as if the filmmaker was paying homage to himself instead of blatantly repeating some of what he’s done before during his heyday.
But the thriller is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Matteo Cocco, crisply edited by Flora Volpelière (Les Misérables), and scored within an inch of its life by composer Arnaud Rebotini (BPM (Beats Per Minute)). Pastorelli and Zhang are surprisingly wonderful together, and I really liked how their friendship matured and evolved as things went along.
But it is Argento’s handling of the picture’s key set pieces that positively stood out to me the most. The director recaptures some of that nightmarish dreamscape stream-of-consciousness insanity that has always been the hallmark of his best works. The assault by the killer on his first unfortunate victim immediately propelled me to the edge of my seat. The ethereally chilling car chase between this madman and Diana even more so. Best of all is a moonlit chase through a secluded forest and marsh that truly annihilated me, a mad rush to apparent freedom through a seemingly empty field thrillingly suspenseful.
There is plenty of gore and even more blood as it’s not like Argento was ever going to skimp on either of those items. But none of it ever feels gratuitous, almost all of the nasty stuff fitting the moment in which it is delivered quite nicely. Dark Glasses is a satisfying return to form for the director, this nifty little retro Giallo slasher a tasty October treat worth savoring.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)