You know that feeling you have when a beloved artist you’ve followed since your youth keeps putting out albums that are nowhere near as good as their early stuff – well guess what, the same thing goes for movie directors too. Maybe it’s because tastes change and they ultimately lose the pulse of audiences, or maybe it’s because after a long career, crafting movies now simply feels like a job rather than constructing art a shot at a time, but whatever the reason, you can’t help feel a wave of sadness after viewing their latest effort that seems a mere shadow of their former work.
One filmmaker who had fallen victim to this was Italian horror master Dario Argento who, despite the odd good idea or rousing sequence, had only put out a single great movie (2001’s Sleepless) since the 80’s ended. But the hopes of fans spring eternal and when the news that the man once dubbed the Italian Hitchcock had a brand new movie coming out – and a Giallo one at that – fingers were crossed that Argento could reclaim some of his old magic.
A serial killer dubbed the “Cellist” has been going around, using string from that particular instrument to garotte the throats of local prostitutes wide open, essentialy leaving them as gore spewing pez dispensers and so far the police has virtually no leads to go on. However, when the Cellist targets strong willed professional escort Diana, she manages to peel away in her car before the killer can sink their insidious murder weapon into her neck – but every silver lining has a cloud and her getaway is halted when she crashes into a car containing a young Chinese boy named Chin. Chin’s father is killed, his mother is in a coma and Diana is blinded and in the aftermath, both have to embrace the struggles their new status quo’s have saddled them with and after a shakey start, the two join forces to face their new lives together. Of course, this causes some problems (you can’t just randomly take in a kid who’s fled his orphanage no matter how bad your eyesight is) and Diana’s sheltering of Chin brings the inevitable arrival of the police, but this proves to be the least of their worries when the serial killer who’s ruined both of their lives surfaces again, looking to finish the job.
After switching up his M.O. from simple garotting to flat out running people over with his van (hardly as stealthy, but it has much the same effect), the killer targets the mismatched duo who flee through the neighbouring countryside and woods in order to escape a horrible fate. But what chance does a small child and a blind woman possibly have fleeing on foot over river and dale when their mystery assailant simply wont stop until he’s satisfied his bloodlust?
So, if we’re being brutally honest, anyone expecting anything close to the gorgeous cinematography of Suspiria, the tangled plot of Tenebre, the unfettered brutality of Opera or the peerless excellence of Deep Red is most likely going to be horribly disappointed. The rich colours, sweeping camera work and intricate murders that used to signify Agento’s work is long gone, replaced with a no-nonsense, workmanlike style that mirrors the cold forensic work that populated his work since The Card Player in 2004. Even the bombastic, prog-rock scores by such artists as Goblin that used to bring his lush visuals to life are replaced with typical electronic stings you’d get with a bargin basement, low budget thriller hoping to ride on the coat tails of a John Carpenter wannabe.
However, despite the fact that Dark Glasses lacks much of Argento’s original sizzle, its admittedly nice to see him trying some new stuff when it comes to his protagonists. The pairing of Diana – a proud, organised woman in the midst of putting her life back together – and Chin’s recently orphaned child, makes for a subtly endearing duo whose bonding proves to be far more engaging that the actual serial killer plot (at one point Diana describes her job to Chin as “public relations”), which is surprising considering that the business of thrill-killing maniacs is usually the director’s stock and trade. Argento’s had random child characters pop up and help the movie’s heroine before (most noticably in Opera and Trauma) but he’s never made it the entire basis of the plot and their bond that forms the first half of the movie may be some of the best actor work the director has done since Deep Red as these two damaged individuals begin to heal each other.
Adding to the solid character work is daughter Asia Argento (who these days looks alarmingly like her late mother, Daria Nicolodi), whose carer for the visually impaired add more needed warmth, but the relationships between the characters play far better than the serial killer stuff and the extended chase that makes up the entire final third of the film
For a director renowned for his usage of violence and he love of near inpenetrable murder motives, Dark Glasses is disappointingly flat with the killer’s identity being given up without any real pomp or circumstance and his identity being as bland as a lollipop made from tap water. An early throat rending brings the red stuff in full force but apart from the odd wound and a random dog mauling, the rest of the movie is regrettably dry and oddly devoid of tension. Alexandre Aja could probably make this movie in his sleep (checkout Haute Tension for the visceral proof), but some strange plot holes (Are we to believe that the killer’s vehicle is the only fucking white van in all of Italy or something? Since when are standard guide dogs trained to kill on command? The murderer kills because he’s… stinky? Really?) and some bizarre detours (While on the run from the Cellist, Diana and Chin are inexplicably attacked by angry snakes while trying to cross a river) feel like clumsy dollops of filler in a movie that barely lasts 85 minutes. The movie doesn’t even fully explore the mouth wateringly promising premise of being stalked by a killer after being rendered blind, choosing instead to focus it mostly on Diana running through corridors with no idea where she’s going.
You can sense that for all its quirks, Dark Glasses, like us, desperately wants to be a return to form for Argento and the Giallo film in general, but an anaemic killer plot and a lack of willingness to take advantage of Diana’s disability to it’s full, scary potential means that Dark Glasses unfortunately attracts some disappointing shade.