Cinematic Releases: Dark Glasses (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Vision Distribution
When we last saw the Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, that grandmaster of horror behind such revered classics as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Suspiria and Tenebrae, he hit a creative rock bottom with the misbegotten 2012 Dracula 3D film.  While the years since saw renewed interest in the director’s oeuvre followed by a controversial remake of his most beloved title Suspiria, creatively speaking Argento more or less retired from film directing altogether after the disastrous critical and commercial release of his 3D film which made the maestro’s output look amateurish. 
Then COVID hit and the director’s friend, fellow French provocateur Gaspar Noe, suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage which spawned that director’s most respectable film to date, the dementia drama Vortex.  In it, Dario Argento in his first leading role as an actor plays an elderly husband living with his wife who begins succumbing to dementia, meanwhile Argento’s character gradually begins developing respiratory problems. 

A searing existential work about what awaits us all as we move into elderly aging, the film proved to be a creative hit for Argento and not long after being released to critical acclaim (rare for Noe), Argento found himself reinvigorated by the experience and then immediately proceeded to write and direct his first feature in almost ten years.  Though the aptly named Occhiali Neri or Dark Glasses reposits the director into familiar throwback giallo territory, it is nevertheless a welcome if not somewhat shaky return to form that makes you forget about his last picture.
Based on a script dating back to 2002 before the original film’s producer declared bankruptcy and shelved the project before being rediscovered by daughter Asia Argento years later (who also co-stars and serves as an associate producer), the film concerns an Italian escort named Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) who one night after leaving a difficult client finds herself under attack by a serial murderer.  Narrowly escaping a car crash which leaves her blinded, she befriends a young Chinese boy (Andrea Zhang) who becomes her only source of sight and help in trying to track down the killer with what little means they have before more bodies fall.

Typical Argento fare that feels more like a career summation than bringing anything particularly new to the table, Dark Glasses is something of a greatest hits compilation with many noticeable callouts to Suspiria and Tenebrae.  In the time-honored tradition of giallo, the film is also a glittery travelogue through contemporary Rome, showing off the location and culture while still telling a survival horror story.  The performances by the unlikely two leads Pastorelli and Zhang are generally good with Pastorelli doing a decent job pulling off the blindness look.  Also worth mentioning are the effects teams’ grisly gore and bloodletting though seasoned giallo fans are unlikely to be surprised by anything here.
The real stars are Argento, his cinematographer Matteo Cocco whose anamorphic widescreen lenses distort and bend buildings and hallways unnaturally, and his composer Arnaud Rebotini.  While originally intending for Daft Punk to score the film before their unforeseen breakup dropped them out of the project, Rebotini’s score re-channels many of the familiar beats and notes of Argento’s Goblin musical talents and penchant for synthesizers.  Put together, while not reaching the visual phantasmagoria of Suspiria, is well shot and composed enough for it to still provide striking giallo imagery.

Reviews of the film (slated for Autumn 2022 on Shudder) have been across the board with some fans appreciating the director’s return to the chair while also lamenting his seeming inability to make anything new that’s as strong as his 70s and 80s works.  That said, I’ll accept it as an antidote to The Mother of Tears and the aforementioned Dracula 3D experience that almost drove the nails the rest of the way into the coffin for Argento.  While the filmmaker could arguably be losing his touch at the ripe of age of 81, its still refreshing to see the greatest Italian horror director since Mario Bava do his thing one more time. 

--Andrew Kotwicki