‘Dark Glasses’ Review: Dario Argento’s Return Isn’t Quite Triumphant, but At Least There Are Water Snakes

Ilenia Pastorelli stars as a blind sex worker fighting for her life in the giallo master’s first film in a decade.

Dark Glasses
Courtesy of Berlinale

It’s been a full decade since Dario Argento’s last directorial effort, not that “Dracula 3D” inspired much eagerness to see what he’d do next. Capping off a string of misfires, his ill-fated adaptation of Bram Stoker’s magnum opus suggested it might finally be time for the giallo master to hang it up. “Dark Glasses” won’t disabuse many detractors of that notion, but the violent, visual excesses of the genre he helped create are such that it feels more appropriate for Argento to stick around long past his prime rather than gracefully retire at the height of his abilities. And while only those blindly devoted to him will fail to see how patently ridiculous his latest offering is, only those immune to the puerile charm of attack dogs, eclipses and water snakes will fail to enjoy “Dark Glasses” even a little.

Perhaps the best way to give a sense of the film is to first describe its music. Initially moody, ethereal, and more than a little reminiscent of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” theme, it turns into the kind of pulsating, bass-heavy cacophony you’d be likely to hear at a Rome nightclub by the time the first victim has met her brutal end. That’s emblematic of “Dark Glasses” as a whole — an enigmatic opening scene in which heroine Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) first dons her eponymous sunglasses to shield her eyes from an eclipse suggests something dark but restrained, but most of what follows is over-the-top to the point of being ludicrous. That’s not surprising given that “Dark Glasses” is late-era Argento, but it is a little disappointing after that killer opening and the primal effect of lines like “even our ancestors were afraid of eclipses” and “neither the sun nor death can be stared at.”

The plot, such as it is, concerns the aftermath of the violent attack that leaves Diana, a high-end sex worker, blind — a transition that also includes her caring for a child of Chinese descent who also narrowly escaped with his life that fateful night. A fellow sex worker is murdered just before Diana’s brush with death, because of course she is, and her demise is shown in agonizing detail, because of course it is. There’s a lot to like here, even if it often feels like there’d be even more to like had Argento seen fit to dial it back a little — but then he wouldn’t really be Dario Argento, would he?

There are a few reprieves from the violence, however. The scenes in which Diana first adjusts to a sightless life — something she does with the help of an aide played by Asia Argento — are among the film’s best, if only because they afford the kind of breathing room that Argento is otherwise loath to allow. Such moments make it easy to imagine “Dark Glasses” offering even more gritty enjoyment had it been made during the maestro’s heyday, but in the cold light of 2022, it can’t help feeling like the retread it is. That’s especially true given the sleek, anodyne lensing of cinematographer Matteo Cocco, itself a far cry from the rich visuals of “Suspiria,” “Deep Red” and “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.”

We know that comparative idyll can’t last, of course, and so does Diana. “Dark Glasses” was never not going to end in bloodshed, and Argento makes it enjoyable despite how predictable it is — an assessment that applies equally to the film itself. And while it wouldn’t exactly be accurate to say that “Dark Glasses” was worth waiting a decade for, a world in which Argento continues working till the bitter end is preferable to one in which we don’t have movies like this at all.

‘Dark Glasses’ Review: Dario Argento’s Return Isn’t Quite Triumphant, but At Least There Are Water Snakes

Reviewed in Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special), Feb. 11, 2022. Running time: 90 MIN. (Original title: “Occhiali neri”)

  • Production: (Italy-France) A Vision Distribution (in Italy), Wild Bunch Int'l (worldwide) release of a Urania Pictures, Getaway Films production, in collaboration with Rai Cinema, Canal Plus, Cine Plus, Sky. (World sales: Wild Bunch Int'l, Paris.) Producer: Concepcion Airoldi. Co-producer: Noemie Devide.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Dario Argento. Camera: Matteo Cocco. Editor: Flora Volpeliere. Music: Arnaud Rebotini.
  • With: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Andrea Gherpelli, Mario Pirrello, Maria Rosaria Russo, Gennaro Iaccarino, Xiny Zhang, Paola Sambo, Ivan Alovisio, Giuseppe Cometa.