Fans of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, who turned 81 years old last year, will enjoy the minor return to form that is Dark Glasses (Occhiali neri), a rather sentimental schlock horror flick that had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.
Certified B-grade, the slasher features a few stylized set-pieces and a script that rehashes the usual Argento elements — a pretty girl victimized by a vicious killer, lots of incompetent Italian cops — into a movie that’s both a little ridiculous and a tad endearing, capturing the Suspiria director at his softest.
Minor-key Argento with more sentiment than slaughter.
The opening, which follows a mysterious young woman, Diana (Illenia Pastorelli), as she drives into town and stops in a park to watch a total eclipse of the sun, is probably the best sequence in the movie, and it’s too bad the rest never quite lives up to that moment.
Shot in eerie, diffused light by Matteo Cocco (Blue Eyes), scored with a retro electro beat by Arnaud Rebotini (BPM) and using lots of dissolves, the scene is vintage Argento in its banal creepiness, transforming a normal scientific phenomenon into something otherworldly.
The plot then kicks in when, as is de rigueur for the director, a prostitute has her neck slashed in the street by an unknown maniac, blood spewing onto the sidewalk and shocking all the passing Romans.
The mysterious killer next targets Diana, who happens to be a call girl herself, catering to a wealthy older man in his high-class lair. On her way out she’s accosted by the masked murderer, who chases her in a van and provokes an accident that leaves Diana blinded and a little Asian boy, Chin (Xinyu Zhang), with two dead parents.
Those early moments of violence are actually some of the only ones in a movie that’s fairly light on the gore and heavy on the sappiness, as if Argento’s knives had been dulled by age. However, rest assured there will be more bloodletting, including a scene of a dog tearing a man’s throat apart until it looks like a bowl of spaghetti bolognese.
Beyond such carnage, Dark Glasses is mostly about Diana adapting to her new disability, with a coach (Asia Argento, in perhaps her most subdued role of all time) guiding her through the steps and hooking her up with a service canine who likes to bite bad guys. Watching Diana touchingly try to cross a street on her own for the first time is not the kind of thing you’d expect from a filmmaker like Argento, whose expertise is in fabulously orchestrated, skillfully shot homicides, but it works in its own simple way.
Diana eventually reaches out to Chin, who’s stuck on his own in a Catholic orphanage, and the two victims soon join hands to protect themselves from a killer still on the loose, while the police prove to be totally useless. (A scene where two cops are laughably murdered shows you why there’s no point in ever reporting a stolen wallet to the Italian authorities.)
Dark Glasses is never all that scary, and some of it is just plain silly, but if you take it at face value it can be enjoyable enough to sit through — more of a reminder of what Argento used to do best than an example in its own right.
He’s always been a master at creating dark urban moods, and here he ominously captures a vacant Rome in partial ruins, lying in wait for another body to drop. The closing sequence, shot at night in a forest, is particularly memorable, following Diana and the boy while they run from stabbing knives and fake snakes, as if they were in a fairytale gone sadistically wrong.