DARK GLASSES (Occhiali neri)

Producers: Noëmie Devide, Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval, Laurence Clerc, Conchita Airoldi and Laurentina Guidotti   Director: Dario Argento   Screenplay: Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini   Cast: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Andrea Gherpelli, Mario Pirrello, Maria Rosaria Russo, Gennaro Iaccarino, Xinyu Zhang, Paola Sambo Ivan Alovisio, Giuseppe Cometa, Gianluca Giugliarelli, Guglielmo Favilla, Viktorie Ignoto, Gladys Robles, Mario Scerbo and Tiffany Zhou   Distributor: IFC Midnight/Shudder

Grade: B-

Aficionados of Dario Argento’s gialli from the 1970s and 1980s—especially the early classics—won’t want to miss the now-octogenarian writer-director’s return to the genre.  Although “Dark Glasses” hardly equals his best, and indeed isn’t even very good, it has enough of his iconic touches to get by as a sort of Argento self-homage, and admirers will enjoy its characteristic inanities and excesses.

The picture represents the realization of a script Argento actually co-wrote some two decades ago, presumably after 2001’s “Sleepless” (which was co-written by Franco Ferrini, his collaborator here), but financing fell through and the project collapsed.  His daughter Asia found it in 2021 and spearheaded its production, acting as an executive producer and taking one of the lead roles, in the process enduring one of her father’s lurid murder sequences.

But the real protagonist here is Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli, stilted though game), a classy prostitute who won’t take guff from her clients, expecting them to be clean and well-mannered.  But she becomes a target of a Roman Jack the Ripper, whom we see brutally dispatching another call girl.  Though Diana escapes him, the fiend forces her fleeing car into a collision in which she is blinded, and two of the three occupants in the other vehicle seriously injured.  Only the child, a Chinese boy named Chin (Xinyu Zhang) emerges unscathed.  He’s sent to an orphanage while his mother is hospitalized in critical condition; his father has died. 

Meanwhile Diana begins to deal with her blindness.  Aided by Rita (Argento), a specialist caregiver, she begins navigating her apartment and the streets outside with a seeing-eye dog, now using constantly the titular dark glasses she’d been shown employing to watch an eclipse at the start.  She also visits the Chin in the orphanage, feeling guilty about her role in the accident that devastated his family.  It’s not long before the kid escapes and shows up at her apartment, pleading to be allowed to stay.  They bond, and she refuses to hand him over to the cops, even when they show up at her door.  Unfortunately, the killer shows up as well, and Diana and Chin are forced to go on the run, making their way to Rita’s.  Others, including a sympathetic motorist, get sucked into the action, and a swirl of snakes and some snarling dogs show up as well.   

“Dark Glasses” hearkens back to early Argento gialli in the serial-killer plot and the lurid killing scenes, both of the victims and of the perpetrator at the close, as well as the ineptitude of the police.  But it differs in significant respects.  Visually it lacks the almost tactile lushness of the classic titles; Marcello di Carlo’s production design is thoroughly pedestrian and Matteo Cocco’s cinematography drab, except in the relatively few sequences where the makeup artists take over with ample applications of fake blood and gore.  The alternately flabby and frenzied editing of Flora Volpelière doesn’t help.  But Arnaud Rebotini tries, in his score, to mimic what Ennio Morricone once brought to the party.

Narratively there are the usual problems of lucidity and coherence, especially in the final reel, where things go pretty much berserk.  But perhaps the most seriously miscalculated aspect of the plot is the early revelation of the villain’s identity, which proves to be as off-the-wall as one expects, even though it’s been well (too well, in fact) telegraphed.  The splashy conclusion fails to make up for it; this is no “Vertigo.”

Of course Hitchcock’s film was psychologically complex.  The same certainly can’t be said for “Dark Glasses,” in which even the major characters have less depth than those in an Agatha Christie novel, being nothing more than pieces in a madcap board game.  But if you appreciated the young Argento’s contributions to Italian slasher movies, you needn’t hesitate to check out what will probably be his swan song in the giallo genre, despite its obvious failings.