Dark Glasses is the much-anticipated return of storied Italian director Dario Argento. His long career stretches back to the 1970s, with his most acclaimed past works being The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Suprisia (1977). Dark Glasses is the first time Argento has directed since 2012’s Dracula 3D. Dark Glasses is co-written by Argento, Franco Ferrini, and Carlo Lucarelli.
Dark Glasses opens in Rome on a beautiful Italian summer day with an impending eclipse causing a sense of unease among the locals. Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), a high-priced prostitute, observes the eclipse in a crowded park while dogs can be heard barking in the background. A mother and father explain to their child that “They’re barking ‘cause they’re nervous. Not only dogs but all animals are afraid. Even our ancestors were afraid of eclipses. They thought the sun disappearing was the end of the world.” The scene sets an ominous tone and establishes an interplay between light and dark, animal and human, and good and evil.
Argento plays with these themes throughout the film, incorporating them into the Giallo style of Italian horror film-making, which he is known for perfecting. Giallo originated in Italy in the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1970s. This style of horror marries murder-mystery plots with intense moments of horror, often featuring glamorous female protagonists stalked by unidentified killers in luxurious settings (think Halloween, but Laurie is wearing Versace and being chased through an upscale resort in St. Barths). The Giallo genre heavily influenced American slasher films such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), which brought the motif to more relatable locations for the average American viewer, like suburbia and summer camps.
Unlike her American counterparts, Diana is a beautiful and glamorous Italian prostitute who shows no trepidation concerning her station in life. Diana is what she needs to be to survive any situation; alluring and seductive with her clients, vicious when cornered by those who would harm her. Pastorelli’s performance effectively engages the audience and paints a portrait of a woman hardened by her profession but not the judgments laid upon her.
As the story progresses, Diana becomes connected by tragedy to Chin (Xinyu Zhang), a young Chinese boy. Chin’s character is as flat as they come. He acts as little more than an accessory for Diana’s predicament. Despite Zhang’s adequate delivery of the character, there is never a sense that he wants to be there or that he has any depth beyond being an overgrown handbag for Diana. The film struggles to develop a relationship between Diana and Chin; Diana is unbelievable as a material figure, and Chin is more annoying than endearing. The lack of chemistry between the actors hinders the film’s ability to build tension; the audience isn’t given much to care about with the characters, and any peril they experience is diminished.
The killer in Dark Glasses tries their best to fill in where the relationship between Diana and Chin falters. Unfortunately, the need to keep their identity secret until the later acts, a trope for Giallo films, hinders this effort. The killer is often missing from the screen, in person, and as an existential threat. This lack of presence is compensated by contrived and rushed moments of violence that feel disconnected from the rest of the film. At times, the killer seems removed, and at others, they seem to act inexplicably and with perfect information, leaving the viewer confused rather than scared. A viewer could be forgiven for thinking they have somehow wandered into an ill-conceived foreign sitcom featuring an Italian call girl and her adopted Chinese son instead of a horror movie. Overall, the killer’s need to remain anonymous and the disjointed plot contribute to a film that feels unfocused and confusing.
Despite these shortcomings in writing, Argento’s camera work and cinematography in Dark Glasses are excellent. He uses color and lighting effects to convey the mood and make the movie visually appealing. He is skilled at making scenes come alive or feel sterile as needed without jarring the viewer. Argento employs various techniques, and every shot in the movie is interesting, with rarely two scenes being similar in camera angle, lighting, or color palette. For fans of John Carpenter’s directional style and lighting techniques, Argento and the more remarkable Giallo genre will feel immediately familiar and exciting. Argento’s direction keeps the viewer’s attention and supports the film when the subject matter and pacing fall short, showcasing his many decades of experience mastering his craft.
Besides the excellent visuals, the film also stands out for its departure from the “sex equals death” trope too familiar in horror. Like X (2022) earlier this year, Dark Glasses refrains from depicting all sex workers as helpless victims. Diana is presented as an empowered individual who is comfortable with herself despite societal judgment. She does not go through any typical redemption arc, as some may expect. The audience must accept her as she is. This portrayal of sex workers promotes a greater understanding of their humanity and even sympathy for some who utilize their services. It is refreshing to see horror moving away from outdated views of women and sexuality.
Despite not being an impressive film or representative of Argento’s best work, Dark Glasses is a master class in visual technique and demonstrates that even long-established genres, and their creators, can evolve past tired conventions.