Dario Argento’s career has had a number of distinct phases, quality-wise. His triumphant early classics like Deep Red, his fascinating and wild later works like Phenomena, his past-his best era of watchable curios like The Stendhal Syndrome, Trauma, and Sleepless, and then his flop era with dreck like Dracula 3D, Giallo and Mother of Tears. That last era has been plodding on for 20 years. And now we have his latest film, Dark Glasses, with its script allegedly fished out from the bottom of a drawer by daughter Asia Argento. Could this ever be any good? The answer, incredibly… is yes. It’s as good as his ‘watchable curio’ era! It’s his best film since Sleepless (2001)! A miracle!
In Dark Glasses, we meet Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) as she drives around Rome, people-watching. Those people, in turn, are getting ready to watch something in the sky – an eclipse. Eventually Diana leaves her car, walks a distance away, takes of her glasses and… stares straight up into the looming eclipse. This is not the only bad choice she’ll make in this movie, and not the last time she’ll damage her eyes.
Diana is a sex worker, and her ocular damage is a bad omen of worse to come. A white-van man psychopath is stalking and killing local prostitutes, and he sets his sights on the retinally-challenged Diana, chasing her around Rome. This leads to a rather dramatic car accident, which completes the job in terms of rendering Diana blind and – through gloriously unlikely plot machinations – leaves her in charge of a young Chinese orphan, Chin (Xinyu Zhang). Unable to go to the cops lest the grab the boy and arrest her for kidnapping, Diana and Chin flee into the city outskirts, with only each other and Diana’s best friend (Asia Argento) for support.
Dark Glasses may for the most part be less stylised than Argento’s classic giallo, but it is edited with the slick precision of a man who knows exactly how to orchestrate a flow of images for maximum effect. For the first time in a long time Dark Glasses felt like being back in the hands of a master. The third act may lose its way a little, and for whatever reason Argento eschews any big payoff with the villain (whose identity is very easy to guess, and not very interesting). But its not the destination, its the journey – and Dark Glasses has several sequences, images, and moments good enough to make it a must-see for any fans of the genre. It may not be a late-career masterpiece, but it’s a late career good time with lots to enjoy, and thank the gods of cheesewire and flick-knives for that.
Dark Glasses played at the Fantasia International Film Festival on 30 July, and next plays at Frightfest in London on 27 August, before coming to streaming on Shudder later this year.