Fans of Italian horror legend Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebre, Phenomena, Opera) have long hoped that the veteran filmmaker, who turned 82 in September, might have one more masterpiece lurking within. While Dark Glasses is far better than other recent fare, like 2009’s Giallo, it unfortunately doesn’t touch his classics.
But still, Dark Glasses — which is receiving both a theatrical release and a streaming platform on Shudder — is something seasoned Argento fans will be curious about, with good reason; it’s Argento’s first feature in a decade, and features his daughter and frequent collaborator Asia Argento in a supporting role. Without any supernatural elements, it slots in with the giallo side of his filmography, though it lacks the dazzling visuals and lurid mystery of the films he began his career with, like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Ostensibly a thriller, Dark Glasses is pretty low on suspense; the most shocking thing about its plot is how linear it is, something that robs the proceedings of the delightful unpredictability so often seen in Argento’s work. The score is frequently intrusive — another much-loved Argento trademark — but Arnaud Rebotini’s work is hardly as nerve-jangling as the electronic Goblin soundtracks that helped elevate films like Suspiria into stories that felt like they were literally taking place inside nightmares.
That said, the world as experienced by Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) is plenty nightmarish; it’s just a bit more grounded than, say, Suspiria’s witchy ballet school from hell. We get a super on-the-nose warning that Diana’s life is about to shift into darkness in her first scene, in which she nearly damages her eyes by staring at an eclipse. Not long after, she’s in a terrible car accident that blinds her — an especially tragic turn of events given that she’s being stalked by a manic who’s targeting call girls around Rome. (“God’s punishment,” Diana’s disapproving housekeeper mutters, shortly before Diana furiously fires her.) Adding to that, the accident involved other victims, including the young Chin (Xinyu Zhang) — who blames Diana at first but then decides he’d rather hang around with her rather than be stuck in an orphanage. Along with a sturdy seeing-eye dog, Diana’s circle of support also includes Rita (Asia Argento), a kindly home health worker who helps Diana adjust to her new reality.
As some of Dark Glasses’ cop characters flail around trying to ID the killer (filmgoers will have a much less difficult time figuring it out), and others flail around trying to locate the runaway Chin, the movie tries to capture the disorientation Diana feels. Obviously she’s incredibly vulnerable, and it makes sense that Dark Glasses would want to convey that by filming a lot of scenes in near-darkness — something that would be more frustrating if the story led to a final act with surprises or reveals rather mostly running and shrieking.
If you’re seeking a dose of Argento’s trademark lush, colourful cinematography and achingly gorgeous style, this is not where you’ll find it. In fact, if you’re seeking a satisfying Argento viewing experience at all, this is not the movie to push play on. If you’re new to the director, Dark Glasses should absolutely not be your first exposure to his work. Put plainly, this movie could be so much worse (exhibit A: 2012’s excruciating Dracula 3D) — but the Argento faithful know it could be so much better, too.
Dark Glasses is now playing in select theatres and will expand to more on October 14; it arrives on Shudder today, October 13. And, as it happens, Shudder also has a number of other Argento movies in its library; it just added Opera and The Stendhal Syndrome to go along with Deep Red, Tenebrae, Inferno, Phenomena, Trauma, and The Cat o’ Nine Tales, as well as two movies he co-wrote but didn’t direct: Demons and Demons 2.
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