in Review, Shocktober

Dark Glasses (2022)

Every year (usually in September) Sean, Colin, and I make our picks for Shocktober. This year’s theme was “2022 New Releases.” I picked: The Munsters, Flux Gourmet, Hatching, Pearl and… God, I can’t even remember the last one. My point is apart from Munsters and Pearl I’ve switched up every single selection I started with. My reason is that even newer films keep coming out and replacing my original choices, and it’s just too hard to ignore something shiny and new. In this case, a shiny new pair of dark glasses…

We’ve been doing “Shocktober” on Mildly Pleased for over a decade and this is the seventh time we’ve covered a Dario Argento film. Argento is our most covered director after David Cronenberg (who was also eligible this year) and there’s a reason for that. From the early 70s to the mid 90s, Argento was one of the most consistent, stylish, and exciting filmmakers around. Suspiria, Deep Red, Tenebrae (to name a few), are classics, with engrossing murder/mystery plots, sumptuous visuals, funky soundtracks, and enough blood to paint the walls of your rumpus room.

Dario fell off a bit in the 2000s, and has been mostly silent since 2012’s Dracula 3D. Can you believe a movie called “Dracula 3D” is bad? But Dario is back, baby. He recently (and surprisingly, because he’s not an actor) starred in Gaspar Noe’s latest psychological drama Vortex and returned to directing in his beloved subgenre of Giallo with Dark Glasses, a lesser work in the director’s oeuvre but a return to form nonetheless.

Dark Glasses sounds like a movie Argento has already made, and in many ways he has. The plot concerns an Italian escort named Diana (Ilena Pastorelli), who is pursued by a serial killer and escapes in her car only to be blinded in a car accident. The film then picks up as Diana tries to adjust to her new life as blind person and tries to make amends with a boy named Chin (Xinyu Zhang), who was orphaned after his parents were killed in the same accident.

A blind protagonist who teams up with an unlikely sidekick may seem like an inventive plot to someone not familiar with Argento, but to the initiated this premise fits like a black leather glove. Many of Argento’s giallo horror films are about unlikely protagonists who try to solve murder mysteries. This isn’t even Argento’s first film with a blind lead character. The Cat o’ Nine Tails, directed by Dario Argento in 1971, is also about a blind character who becomes wrapped up in a murder mystery.

I will say I don’t recall any Argento films that contain an adult and child teaming up. After Diana tries to make amends with Chin, she more less lets him live with her, which results in social services people coming after her. Of course they’re killed by the classic glove-equipped Argento villain who lurks in the shadows and hides his face until the end.

I love that we get glimpses of what the killer does when he’s not killing, breathing heavily and lurking around his trashed apartment. The kills themselves are standard stabbings but the atmosphere is good. Well, apart from the music.

Want to hear a fun fact that will break your heart? When this movie was first announced, Daft Punk was going to do the soundtrack. Can you imagine how cool that would have been? Sadly, they broke up not long after and instead we got a bunch of bland club-music and John Carpenter rip off tracks from Arnaud Rebotini. It’s not all bad but it’s a far cry from Argento’s iconic collaborations with the Italian electronic band Goblin. But man, Daft Punk and Argento? That would have been a match made in heaven… or Hell 😉

On paper, Dark Glasses is what we’d all like to see Argento do, but in practice the film lacks so many of the nuances of his better works. It lacks the stylish kills, dizzying colors, hip music. If even one or two of those elements were amped up this would be a solid film. Instead it’s just kind of meh.

I will give the film props for its performances. Ilena Pastorelli is a compelling lead. I’m not sure where we stand as a culture casting seeing actors as blind people, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in poor taste–Not that I’m any authority on that. I like Xinyu Zhang in the film too. You walk a fine line when you cast a kid in a movie like this but he avoids being annoying or out of place.

Another fine line Dark Glasses has to walk is the inclusion of Dario’s daughter Asia in the cast. Asia was one of many actresses to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexually assaulting her, only for it to come out later the she had sexually assaulted actor Jimmy Bennett when he was only 17 and she was 37. She plays a small part in Dark Glasses as a professional helping Diana adjust to her life as a blind person, but it does take me out of the movie when she’s onscreen.

All in all, I’m glad Dario is still making movies. He’ll probably never rekindle the magic of his early films but he’s still a competent filmmaker who clearly has fun playing in this genre. And man, what a relief that his final film won’t be “Dracula 3D” Unless he makes “Dracula 4D” as his next film. Now that would be truly scary.