Once upon a time, word of a new Dario Argento film would be met with excitement and anticipation. Nowadays, it feels like it is met with a trepidatious “okay….” His last few movies have not been good, and his most recent film, Dracula 3D, which was released a decade ago, was almost embarrassingly bad.
Luckily, Dark Glasses is good. Not great, but a decent film that isn’t an embarrassment on the brilliant director’s resume.
There is a murderer killing sex workers in Italy. Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) is a sex worker. One night, a john gets rough with her, so she fights back and leaves his hotel. Shaken, she gets into her car, but there is a hooded man following her. He gets in his van and gives chase. He eventually rear-ends her, sending her careening into an intersection, where she collides with another car with a family in it. The father dies, and the mother is in a coma, leaving their child, Chin (Andrea Zhang), alive and alone. Diana is left blind by the accident, but has a lot of moxie and seems to adapt to being blind the best she can. She has a new friend, Rita (Asia Argento), a volunteer who works with the blind. She gets a guide dog that doubles as a guard dog (don’t worry; the dog lives), and she goes to visit Chin at the orphanage to apologize and offer her sympathy.
Chin is initially angry at Diana, but he quickly comes around and decides she is better than the kids at the orphanage. He runs away and goes to Diana’s house, begging her to let him stay and help until his mother wakes up. Diana agrees hesitantly. When the police come looking for Chin, Diana plays dumb and doesn’t give him up, but they have bigger problems to worry about: the guy in the van has been stalking Diana, determined to finish what he started.
Dark Glasses is much closer to Argento’s giallo roots than many of his movies. There is nothing supernatural to be seen here. The killer is very human, and like any good giallo, his preferred method of murder is with his gloved hands: he garrotes his victims.
The film opens with people staring at an eclipse, including Diana. Though Diana suffers some “mild irritation” after the eclipse, there are no further complications from the eclipse storyline, either supernatural or terrestrial. Although this may have helped Argento maintain a more direct story and avoid ridiculous plot holes like the giant praying mantis in Dracula 3D (yep, still bitter about that one), it did feel like a plot point that was wasted.
The story is very straightforward. A girl is attacked, she runs, she is chased, we discover who the murderer is. There are no twists; nothing unforeseen or even surprising happens. It is almost too basic. There isn’t a ton of gore, but the red stuff flows when it is spilled, in a way that just screams “Argento” (or maybe it is just because Sergio Stivaletti has done effects for Argento for decades… so maybe it screams “Stivaletti”).
The characters were fine. Argento always has strong female characters, and this time around is no exception. Pastorelli plays Diana as a strong lead, able to take on what is thrown at her, but she also gives her a vulnerability that we can empathize with. Chin is surprisingly tolerable for a child who is desperately hanging on Diana. Argento’s daughter, Asia, also plays a supporting role.
My very first Argento film was Suspiria, I saw it on TV when I was 13 years old and the reds of that film left an indelible impression on me. Sadly, there was nothing like that in this film. When Diana first appears on-screen in a red dress, I thought that maybe, Argento was returning to the reds, but it didn’t last. There were a few stylistic choices in the opening sequences, and in a few, brief dream sequences, but these didn’t last. For the most part, this was a very straightforward, unsurprising psychological thriller.
Dark Glasses is no Suspiria or Tenebrae, but it’s also no Dracula 3D. It’s a fine movie, and sometimes, that is all you can ask for.