Creatively brutal violence. Grotesque deaths. A leather-gloved killer loose on the streets of Rome. “Dark Glasses” (“Occhiali neri”) finds Dario Argento successfully returning to his Giallo roots, delivering his best film since 2005’s “Ti piace Hitchcock?”.
While not an Argento classic, the Horror maestro’s latest is a well-designed Giallo slasher picture in its purist form and a welcome throwback to a time when films of its ilk were more widely embraced.
In the marvelously designed pre-credits sequence, Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) drives the streets of Rome, looking out to the neighborhoods where the people are all in sunglasses and looking up to the sky. It seems the whole of the city is waiting for the upcoming solar eclipse.
The director creates a masterful foreboding atmosphere, as the slowly darkening sunny skies represent the shape of things to come for our protagonist, who stares wide eyed at the wonder above.
For Diana, seeing too much will be life-threatening. To immediately set such a mood by skillfully using a symbolic event promises a deeper film to come. While the opening moment is quite artful, Argento isn’t concerned with allegory for this film. “Dark Glasses” is a bloody serial killer picture through and through.
We learn Diana is a sex worker. One night, after a close call with an aggressive client, she escapes to her car, only to be attacked by a masked assailant who chases after her in a white van.
The unnamed attacker forces Diana’s car into traffic, slamming her into another car (in an excellent stunt), killing the male driver and putting the female into a coma. Their 7 year old son is unharmed in the backseat.
The accident leaves Diana blind and she must learn to cope, an area where Argento plays with melodrama more than usual. By watching his heroine learn to live in a sightless world, the filmmaker elicits our sympathies towards her plight. Any prudish moral judgements on how she makes her living, erased.
There is bound to be debates on whether the screenplay (from Franco Ferrini and Argento) exploits Diana’s affliction. The blindness is not a gimmick but a strong part of what shapes the character. Blind women in peril have made for many a great thriller, including Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark”, Mia Farrow in “See No Evil”, and Madeline Stowe in “Blink”.
As a killer stalks the city’s sex workers, Diana learns how to live life as a blind woman with help from health care worker Rita (Asia Argento), who specializes in guiding newly blind people through the world. Rita takes care on helping her client to adjust and finds her a perfect guide dog who will, in many ways, become her protector.
As Rita and Diana begin a friendship, the script could have used a few more conversations between them, to stronger sell their bond.
Added to Diana’s issues, is the arrival of Chin (Andrea Zhang), the young boy from the crash who has run away from foster care. Diana’s guilt causes her to hide him. For her, this is a form of penance, although the two begin to care for one another.
As Diana shelters Chin from the cops, the two must eventually hide themselves from the killer, who will cross paths with them both.
While not a perfect film, Argento’s cinematic strengths are on full display throughout. The director crafts every shot carefully, never wasting an inch of his frame. As with each one of his works, there is always something for the eyes to catch.
Argento’s uncanny eye for the perfect splash of color is something to behold. Matteo Cocco’s camera paints the Italian streets with dark reds and blues, creating a gorgeously grim atmosphere and giving the horror master his best-looking film in decades.
Arnaud Rebotini’s pulsing synth-Rock score is a good stand in for Argento’s usual collaborators Goblin and/or Claudio Simonetti. The Moog synthesizers are quite haunting as the guitar chords strike fast and sharp, like the killer’s blade.
The terrors in most Argento pictures are of a highly sexualized nature. While this film’s murderer is targeting prostitutes, the horrors here are based on something altogether different. The reason for the killings is something I cannot share.
The term auteur is thrown around haphazardly when speaking of directors. For Dario Argento, the moniker fits. The maestro has a stunning ability to craft a film and his career is filled with some of the most nightmarish visions in cinema history.
“Dark Glasses” is a very good film. Expertly directed and always entertaining, this one reminds us why Argento’s title as a master of Horror remains strong.
Written by Franco Ferrini & Dario Argento
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Mario Pirrello, Andrea Gherpelli
NR, 86 Minutes, Shudder/Urania Pictures/Getaway Films/Vision Distribution/Ria Cinema