Dark Glasses review – Dario Argento’s latest is a glorious return to form
The Italian "Master of Horror" delivers a well-oiled, greatest hits-like giallo riff in his first feature film for more than a decade
To paraphrase Trainspotting: some people have got it, and then one day they lose it, and then it's gone forever. For the longest time it was believed that Italian filmmaker Dario Argento – the mastermind behind giallo classics Deep Red, Suspiria, and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage – had lost it forever, with little chance of ever getting it back. Yet Argento's latest, Dark Glasses, his first feature in a decade following a run of increasingly disliked films in the 2000s, arrives as proof that he very much still has it.
There is absolutely nothing in Dark Glasses that reinvents the wheel. Perhaps, in comparison to Argento’s 70s and 80s masterpieces, it even suffers a bit; the advent of digital filmmaking, with its inherently colder imagery, and the decline of studio-bound filmmaking, inherently pushes against Argento’s instincts, which are rooted in complete control of lighting and image to achieve the desired psycho-surreal effect. But compared to his competitors today, be they arthouse horror beard-scratchers or direct-to-VOD schlockmeisters, he’s still way ahead of the game – even when, like here, he’s essentially playing his greatest hits.
The plot emerges in the vein of classic giallo. High-end call girl Daria (Ilenia Pastorelli) is doing her thing but there’s a serial killer targeting sex workers on the loose. The killer targets Daria, running her off the road, where she smashes into a car and is blinded, orphaning Chin (Andrea Zhang), a young Chinese boy. After the accident, Daria strikes up a friendship with the boy, alongside the aid worker assigned to help her adapt to sight impairment (Asia Argento). Yet, the killer continues to circle.
Any half-attentive viewer will spot the killer’s identity at least half-way in, but that’s not the point. Argento does a delicious job of delineating between Daria’s pre-blindness life – one of high-end, glamorous Roman hotels – and her immediately more anxious post-accident life. In setting a killer against a blind woman and an immigrant child, the director also sets up the conflict as heteronormative, white, ultra-masculine domination versus those who so often suffer from that domination: women and migrants. There’s also a sense of real warmth between Daria and Chin and it’s hard not to start caring for them right away.
Pastorelli takes the lead role in both hands, commanding the screen with every glorified, over-arched gesture, helped by Argento playing ball with her in every shot: a snake-based set-piece is particularly OTT, showcasing the director’s long-standing obsession with choking in newfound garishness. The secret weapon in Dark Glasses, however, is the techno-inflected soundtrack by Arnaud Rebotini (whose previous credits include 120 BPM). It’s propulsive stuff, tracked by a real sense of danger, giving Argento’s gliding camera movements a touch of added elegance.
Dark Glasses won’t win over any new fans, but for fellow degenerates simply looking for a master director capable of holding us rapt over every image and beat, Argento’s return reaffirms what made him great in the first place.
Dark Glasses was screened as part of Berlinale Film Festival 2022. It is released on Shudder from 13 October.Where to watch