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  • Reviewed at the 2022 Berlinale

The cultural imprint of Dario Argento’s 1977 supernatural horror Suspiria is far-reaching, and runs through some of the most exciting new horror of today. Daria Nekrasova’s The Scary of Sixty-First, for instance, which won the Best Feature Award at last year’s Berlinale, channels the deranged audacity of the cult classic, twisting it into an irreverent takedown of patriarchal power abuses (instead of a witch coven in Germany, the abusive legacy of convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein is its New York resident terror).

Seeing the legacy of the Italian director, who is now 81, riffed on in such inventive ways (even Luca Guadagnino’s wacky 2018 Suspiria remake had boldness of absurdity going for it) makes it all the more dispiriting that the first feature in 10 years by Argento himself, Dark Glasses, which premiered at the Berlinale, is such a misfire.

There is the baroque, blood-red gore he is known for, and a pulsing electronic score by Arnaud Rebotini to reliably dial up the creeped-out mood, but it lacks the wild visual flair of Suspiria or Argento’s stylish 1970s giallos like Deep Red. The plot – a serial killer pursuing a blind sex worker who has a guide dog – feels like a half-hearted, psychologically thin rehash of fragments of more vividly terrifying films (no scene approaches the atmospheric chill of Suspiria’s blind pianist getting his throat ripped out by his own hound while trying to cross a square at night).

In fact, the pretext is so flimsy for showing a string of conventionally beautiful women terrorised and savagely dispatched for not pleasing men unreservedly, that the film plays out like a dated throwback to the misogynistic screen politics of another era, rather than an arch reframing.

All eyes are to the sky as the film opens, because a solar eclipse is underway, creating an expectation that we might have a clever exploration of seeing and the unseen on our hands, steeped in ancient mythology about the solar system. But the blindness the phenomenon foreshadows comes only as a thuddingly literal means to make the central protagonist, sex worker Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), as helpless as possible, as prey on the run.

The killer, who drives a banal white van, targets the sex workers of Rome’s high-end hotels, whose bright red matte lips are presented as almost summoning the copious bloodshed that accompanies their fates. It’s as if their gruesome ends were punishment for transgressing chaste morality – at least in the eyes of detectives, who speak of the victims’ line of work as if it were a moral failing rather than a profession.

Diana loses her sight in a gory car crash while escaping from a client she has outraged by requesting that he take a shower before their session,  as he smells of the animals he tends. In this type of universe, daring to set boundaries to men’s entitled demands, and humiliating them, always brings dire consequences.

A ferociously loyal guard dog, Nerea, and rehabilitation sessions from Rita, a representative from the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Asia Argento), assist Diana in regaining self-sufficiency, as she prepares to return to work. But as the stalker closes in, and she finds herself without bearings in woodland, her lack of agency and vulnerability feel too easily, gratuitously, exploited.

Diana acquires a companion, a plucky young Chinese boy named Chin (Andrea Zhang) whose mother has been gravely hurt in the accident that ruined Diana’s eyesight. Diana agrees to take him in out of a sense of guilt, so he can avoid a children’s home. It is a series of events with creaky credibility, and there is little in the way of psychological backstory to help us care much about anyone in this array of loose associates that the plotline has awkwardly thrown together.

The pursuit scenes go some way toward provoking primal fear, but some of the jump scares are so hokily uninspired (a nest of wild snakes, for instance, is more in line with an Indiana Jones jungle spectacle than with any self-respecting seedy giallo) that any illusion of a cohesive vision is lost. “Neither the sun nor death can be stared at,” says one character, paraphrasing French moralist François de La Rochefoucauld. It’s a catchy phrase, but it ultimately rings hollow in Dark Glasses. There is no oblique mystery about the slayings we are confronted with – nor is the film so riveting it takes much to look away.