Director: Dario Argento (Italy, France). Year of Release: 2022
A housing estate in Rome. A woman in bright red lipstick and a red dress drives a car downhill. On the balconies of the flats that she passes, everyone is looking into the sky. Some are taking pictures with their mobile phones. She reaches a park at the bottom of the hill, and joins a throng of people, also looking at the skies. Cut to: the moon, slowly passing over the face of the sun. As we approach a total eclipse, she puts on her dark glasses.
A hotel, somewhere else in Rome. A woman leaves the room of an ageing man. He embraces her as she leaves and reminds her that he hasn’t paid her yet. She leaves the hotel, saying bye to the people on the desk, with whom she is on first name terms. As she walks into the hotel garden, someone jumps out of the bushes and garrottes her in one quick stroke. As blood pours out of her mouth and the fresh, straight wound in her neck, there is no need to call the ambulance.
Another home in Rome, another call girl collecting money as she leaves. It’s Diana, the woman in red lipstick from the opening scene. After an unsettling scene with her client, she nervously struggles to open her car. Just after she locks the door behind her, a man appears outside. She rushes off, but he follows her in a white van, speeding through the neighbourhood. He shunts into the back of her car, causing it to leap over a car coming in the other direction, ripping off the roof.
Diana is blinded by the crash. She is visited by Rita, a no-nonsense woman from a government agency, who teaches her how to get on with her life. Rita provides a cane to walk with, and accompanies Diana to a dog pound where they pick up Nerea, a slightly vicious guide dog. I’ve read complaints that Diana isn’t played by a blind actor, but Ilania Pastorelli really does give us a sense here of Diana literally groping to try to regain control of her new life.
Diana learns that the occupants of the car that she hit were a 3-person family, originally from Hong Kong. The father was killed instantly and the mother lies in a coma. Only the son, Chin, fully survived. Diana is mortified, and overcomes her disability to go to the home run by nuns, where Chin is being kept before he is fostered out. She brings a gift, which Chin initially refuses, but when she intervenes to protect him from bullies, the pair develop a bond.
Chin does not want to be sent off to foster parents he doesn’t know, and Diana needs looking after, so she takes him home with her. When a pair of police officers turn up on her doorstep looking for Chin, the pair go on the tun. The cops return with a search warrant and not much gumption (male cop: “all the lights are out”, female cop: “well, she is blind”) and fall victim to the white van serial killer who has returned to finish off what he started.
If seems that the horror critics are moaning that Dark Glasses isn’t scary enough and the “grown-up” critics don’t think there’s enough characterisation, which, you feel, is another way of saying that it’s merely a horror film. But it’s perfectly fine – in fact more than that. The characters are well drawn and largely sympathetic apart from the ones who obviously are not. There is tension, jump shots, and some of the scenery is sumptuously filmed. So stop moaning.
I do have one issue, mind. It is hard to get away from the fact that this is a film which largely consists of a woman being justifiably in fear of her life and a young boy who is unable to grieve for his dead parents. At one stage, Diana inappropriately tells Chin that the phone calls that she was relaying from the doctors saying Chin’s mum is stable were a lie and she is dead. Before this, she tries to protect him from learning about the mortal danger he is in, which just adds to his plight.
Is this something that we are supposed to enjoy? I know the theories that say that horror is there for us to live out our morbid fears on screen rather than confronting them in real life. Having said this, I was never really convinced by this theory, and don’t really see it in this film. We are being asked to take enjoyment from the suffering of a sympathetic woman and child. How exactly is this supposed to make us more rounded people?
On top of this, there is a degree of unnecessary nudity. Some reviews have complained that the sex scenes weren’t explicit enough, but that just tells you all you need to know about some (mainly male) reviewers. In particular, there is a scene where Diana steps out of the shower, and the camera lingers while she waits to be handed a blanket when you just think, who is expecting to get off on this?
So, yes, I find parts of Dark Glasses gratuitous which don’t really make any contribution to the film’s development. But these are just individual scenes. In general, Dark Glasses engages us in a way that many films in more “respectable” genres seem unable to do. It’s a film with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and most definitely in that order. And this is perfectly fine. We get from A to B with the occasional misdirection, but it’s all reasonable satisfying. What more do you want?