Italian horror maestro Dario Argento is having something of a career resurgence over the past year: first, an unexpectedly heartfelt lead performance in Gaspar Noé’s devastating Vortex and now Black Glasses (Occhiali Neri, and screened as Dark Glasses at this year’s Berlin film fest), which represents his first film as director in 10 years, and his best in 20.
Of course, that’s faint praise; Argento’s most recent films, such as 2012’s Dracula 3D and 2009’s Giallo, starring Adrien Brody, have been justifiably torn to shreds by critics. But Black Glasses ditches some of the worst elements of those films, such as the third-rate CGI effects, and represents the director’s surest hand since at least 2001’s Sleepless.
Black Glasses opens with a trio of bravura sequences that signal a return to form for the director, and promise a better film than what is ultimately delivered.
In an evocative pre-credits sequence, high-end escort Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) drives around the streets of Rome while bystanders point up to the sky. She stops in the park to see what’s going on, only to be temporarily blinded by a solar eclipse before donning a pair of sunglasses.
In a sequence that could have been ripped straight out of Argento’s 70s giallo films, another escort is brutally slain outside a hotel in the center of Rome, while her killer makes a hasty getaway in a van. As police investigate, we learn that it’s the fourth in a series of murders.
Later, Diana is pursued by the van through the streets of Rome after being assaulted by a client in a sequence that ends in an unexpectedly gruesome crash and sets the narrative outline for the rest of the film.
Diana has been fully blinded in the crash, while a Chinese immigrant family has been torn apart. With the father dead and mother in a coma, young child Chin (Andrea Zhang) reaches out to Diana for help. Care worker Rita (Asia Argento) helps Diana come to terms with her newfound blindness, and even finds her a guide dog.
And throughout the next two acts of Black Glasses, the mad killer continues to stalk Diana through the streets and forested outskirts of Rome. Unable to see the madman on her trail, Diana must rely on young Chin and her new canine companion for assistance.
Viewers who aren’t already fans of director Argento need not check in with this one: Black Glasses features all of the director’s trademark weaknesses, which audiences in the 1970s were willing to forgive but won’t be as tolerated in 2022.
These include over-the-top acting (including lead Pastorelli, playing blind with an almost comic gusto), editing gaffes (the killer has a flashback to something he could not have witnessed), poor ADR dubbing, and creature effects from the Ed Wood School of Octopus Wrestling.
But the director’s strengths are also on full display, and include a pulse-pounding electro-synth score by Arnaud Rebotini, fluid widescreen cinematography from Matteo Cocco, unexpectedly graphic violence and practical effects work, and a bravura use of color and lighting (those police lights really drench the screen in atmosphere).
While Ti West’s X represented a picture-perfect facsimile of 1970s horror classics, Black Glasses is the real deal, and only a straightforward script – in stark contrast to Argento’s early giallo classics – keeps it from truly scoring.
Black Glasses is clearly no classic, but in fits and spurts it represents a true return to form for one of horror cinema’s most visionary directors, and that’s certainly good enough for fans of the director.