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DARK GLASSES (aka OCCHIALI NERI, 2022)
Directed by Dario Argento.
Written by Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini.
Starring Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Andrea Gherpelli, Mario Pirrello, Maria Rosaria Russo, Gennaro Iaccarino, Andrea Zhang, Ivan Alovisio, Fabrizio Eleuteri, Guglielmo Favilla, Gianluca Giugliarelli, Cristiano Simone Iannone, Viktorie Ignoto, Maurizio Jiritano, Gladys Robles, Paola Sambo, Mario Scerbo, Tiffany Zhou
A serial killer stalks the streets of Rome, seemingly targeting prostitutes and strangling them using the wire from a cello. His intended fourth victim, a high-class prostitute named Diana (played by Ilenia Pastorelli) eludes him, but as she drives away, the van-driving madman rams her car, causing it to crash with another vehicle containing a Chinese family. Awakening in a hospital, Diana finds out she has lost her sight permanently. Attempting to adjust to her new life, Diana is aided by a volunteer from the Blind Society named Rita (Asia Argento), who at first Diana spurns away, but soon comes to respect their relationship. The only other survivor of the crash is a young boy named Chin (played by Andrea Zhang), who Diana feels sorry for and takes under her wing when she suspects that the killer is out to kill the both of them, the sole survivors of the crash.
It’s kind of a twisty-turny plot, but this is a Giallo and they often are pretzeltine in narrative shape. It’s also an Argento film which often begin concretely, yet soon unravel into something much more ethereal and dream-like. Having endured Argento’s last film DRACULA, I approached DARK GLASSES with trepidation. DRACULA was almost unwatchably bad. Terrible performances supporting a flimsy and by the book narrative that loosely follows the original Bram Stoker story. After watching that film, I felt the 82-year old Maestro of Giallo horror had lost his touch. So I found myself dreading to see another trainwreck of a film, yet hopeful that Argento could redeem himself after his last blunder. Turns out neither occurred.
I love Giallo films. I love them for the way they look and feel. I love the loosely tied plots, the random tangents travelled, the oddball detective work, and the overly-long roundabouts taken to solve the mystery. There’s wonderful murder and mayhem to be found in these twisted tales from Italy and hopefully, one day soon, I will be able to begin a series of videos looking solely at this influential and strange corner of the horror genre. Argento was once one of the rulers of all things Giallo, delivering menacing mysteries and murders with a wicked, complex, and perverse edge like few others in the genre. While his hey-day seems to have passed, with DARK GLASSES, Argento turns in a passible Giallo that might have felt more comfortable in a time when Giallo was a more popular and beloved genre.
The main issue with DARK GLASSES is with its lead. While stunning, Ilenia Pastorelli plays Diana as vapid and distant. She’s sexy, but vacant in both heart and soul. She’s far from the hooker with the heart of gold and while she really didn’t do anything that makes her deserving of her blindness, she also doesn’t really do much to warrant a reason to follow her through this story. She walks snout raised through the streets of Rome, barely acknowledging others and moving from one high-paying John to the next, yet treating each like trash once they’ve paid her. Once she loses her sight, she is mainly focused on herself and expects everyone else to take care of her. She even begins the relationship with the boy Chin as a means to salve her guilt and only forms a bond with him much later when she needs him to be her seeing eye boy. She just isn’t a relatable or nice person and therefore, I didn’t really feel investment enough in this aloof and vain tramp.
But aside from a decent and elegant performance by Asia Argento as the blindness adjustment specialist, there really is not a lot of great acting in DARK GLASSES. The boy Chin is grating and speaks as if he is stolen from a dubbed martial arts movie from the late seventies. This lag in acting may be due to some bad dubbing work, but emoting and moving through the scenes, it’s quite obvious that young Andrea Zhang is no thespian. You know it’s a badly acted film when the best and most relatable actor is the seeing eye dog.
One of the fun things about many Giallo films is that it is fun to play along and guess who the killer is. But DARK GLASSES also really isn’t interested in prolonging the suspense on the killer’s identity. It’s revealed nearly halfway through and that reveal lacks any and all kind of oompf. There’s no potency to the reveal. He just is shown in the van he was driving around in at the beginning. There’s a sheer lack of suspense that occurs through most of DARK GLASSES that makes me wonder if this is the same person who shredded my nerves with SUSPIRIA. There’s a ridiculous chase scene through a swampland involving Diana and Chin stumbling into a nest of water snakes that felt about as impactful as a Sunday morning bowel movement with Diana and Chin lazily wrestling with rubber snakes intercut with water snakes slithering through the water. Diana loses her guide Chin only to find him moments later with no event occurring in between. It’s just a case of one thing happening, then the next, then the next, with no real sense of urgency or tension.
While I admire Argento’s gumption to continue making these films, DARK GLASSES simply lacks the power and potency to thrill. Diana is unbearable to follow when she has sight and even worse once she loses it. And there’s no real mystery going on for the viewer, as Argento shows all of his cards midway. Aside from an admittedly decently paced and gory first kill, it doesn’t even deliver on the scares or gore either after that. Check out any of Argento’s seventies, eighties, and even nineties films for Giallo done fun and right. DARK GLASSES is low tier compared to those classics.