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Dario Argento’s latest film Dark Glasses finds the Master of Horror back on (somewhat) solid ground. While Dark Glasses has several classic Giallo elements, in reality, the Italian director has unexpectedly delivered a throwback to the “disabled woman in peril” subgenre that was popular back in the 80s and 90s.
Dark Glasses begins in traditional Argento fashion. After our protagonist Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) drives around Rome before temporarily blinding herself by looking at an eclipse, the action cuts to a female sex worker finishing up with a client, leaving his hotel, and being brutally garrotted to death. The character has no name or dialogue, and by sheer proximity to her sexual activity, it is insinuated that she has been targeted due to her profession. As a result, this feels akin to Argento’s iconic Gialli films of the 70s and 80s, but in a slightly outdated fashion.
Shortly thereafter Inspector Capo Aleardi (Mario Pirrello) arrives and immediately assumes control of the scene. Aleardi barely registers, however, and the investigation is quickly handed off to his colleagues Ispettrice Bajani (Maria Rosaria Russo) and Ispettore Baldacci (Gennaro Iaccarino). The reality, however, is that Dark Glasses has little interest in exploring its police procedural aspects; the film belongs to Diana, who becomes the killer’s next target.
Like the first victim, Diana is a high-end sex worker. As evidenced by her interactions with clients, she’s very good at her job, though she has a pair of challenging encounters: one with a man who smells like dogs (Andrea Gherpelli), and another man who wants to fist her. In these scenes, Diana is assertive and curt, clearly indicating that she’s capable of looking after herself.
After the latter interaction, Diana is followed by an assailant to her car and pursued in a high-speed chase. The end result is a bloody slow-motion accident worthy of Quentin Tarantino’s Deathproof as Diana rams into and over the vehicle of a Chinese family, killing the father, leaving the mother in a coma and temporarily orphaning young son Chin (Xinyu Zhang). As a result of her injuries, Diana also permanently loses her sight.
A substantial portion of the remainder of the film follows Diana as she adjusts to her new circumstance, thanks to help from trainer Rita (Asia Argento), a walking stick and her guide dog, Perea. Out of guilt, Diana also seeks out Chin and the pair form an unlikely friendship thanks to their collective loss. It’s not long, however, before the killer resumes his stalking, prompting the woman and child to go on the run.
Dark Glasses has several exciting action sequences, including multiple car crashes and brutal murders. The gore, in particular, looks incredible thanks to frequent makeup collaborator Sergio Stivaletti (the opening garrotte scene and a chewy climactic throat wound are highlights). And, in one of the more unexpected and inspired moments, Diana and Chin are stranded in waist-deep water with a nest of predatory sea snakes.
While these sequences are exciting, Argento and editor Flora Volpelière struggle to generate tension and suspense. Scenes feel disconnected and haphazardly strung together as though they are occurring in isolation from each other. Take the sea snake attack, which occurs in the middle of a series of chase scenes, but has no bearing or impact on the scenes that precede or follow it. This happens repeatedly and, often coincides with baffling pacing wherein Diana and Chin run from the killer to a new location, but have endless time to recuperate, regroup and explore their new surroundings.
This lethargic pacing dramatically reduces the threat of violence and death at a time when it should be escalating. As a result, Dark Glasses lags badly at several points, despite clocking in at a brief 87 mins.
Not helping matters is Pastorelli’s flat performance. Dark Glasses doesn’t contain a substantial amount of character development and while Diana’s relationship with Chin is sweet and sentimental, the back half of the film is a collection of scenes of the blind woman screaming and stumbling. Setting the film so soon after Diana’s injury requires a healthy suspension of disbelief at how quickly she adapts to her recent loss of vision and how forcefully she is dragged around. These aren’t insurmountable obstacles for horror fans, but it reinforces the fact that Diana’s disability is little more than a plot device.
Instead, the character who stands out and fares best is Argento’s own daughter, Asia. As Rita, Asia brings a healthy dose of charm and charisma to her handful of scenes. She’s a warm and lively character and proves to be a very welcome presence as a result.
Overall Dark Glasses is fine, especially for audiences who are hungry for the Lifetime/Hallmark films of the 80s and 90s. With tighter editing and better pacing, the back half of the film would have more tension, but Asia Argento’s Rita and solid gore effects ensure that Dario Argento’s latest is halfway there.