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The Interplay Between Light and Dark in the Giallo Style


Light and dark intertwine as acclaimed director Dario Argento saves a film with few engaging characters.



Feb 2, 2024


Dark Glasses is the much-anticipated return of storied Italian director Dario Argento. His long career stretches back to the 1970s, with his most acclaimed past works being The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Suprisia (1977). Dark Glasses is the first time Argento has directed since 2012’s Dracula 3D. Dark Glasses is co-written by Argento, Franco Ferrini, and Carlo Lucarelli.


Dark Glasses opens in Rome on a beautiful Italian summer day with an impending eclipse causing a sense of unease among the locals. Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), a high-priced prostitute, observes the eclipse in a crowded park while dogs can be heard barking in the background. A mother and father explain to their child that “They’re barking ‘cause they’re nervous. Not only dogs but all animals are afraid. Even our ancestors were afraid of eclipses. They thought the sun disappearing was the end of the world.” The scene sets an ominous tone and establishes an interplay between light and dark, animal and human, and good and evil.

Courtesy of Rai Cinema 

Argento plays with these themes throughout the film, incorporating them into the Giallo style of Italian horror film-making, which he is known for perfecting. For context, Giallo originated as a horror genre in Italy in the 1960s and gaining international popularity in the 1970s. The genre marries murder-mystery plots with intense moments of horror, often featuring glamorous female protagonists stalked by unidentified killers in luxurious settings, think Halloween, but Laurie is wearing Versace and is being chased through an upscale resort in St. Barths. The Giallo genre heavily influenced American slasher films such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), which brought the motif, especially the use of lighting, to suburbia and summer camps; locations more accessible to American horror fans.

Unlike her sexually repressed American counterparts, Diana is a beautiful and glamorous Italian prostitute who shows no reservations concerning her station in life. In fact, Diana is what she needs to be to survive any situation; seductive with her clients, vicious when cornered by those who would harm her. Pastorelli’s portrays of a woman hardened by the perils of her profession, but not the judgments laid upon her. Her performance is memorable and engaging, but is sadly one of the few highlights among the films actors.

Courtesy of Rai Cinema

After the film's opening act, Diana becomes connected to Chin (Xinyu Zhang), a young boy, orphaned after a tragic accident. The film's narrative fails to utilize Chin's character to any effect. Despite Zhang’s adequate delivery of lines, the character lacks depth beyond being an overgrown handbag for Diana to drag through the film. The film struggles to develop any connection between Diana and Chin; Diana is unbelievable as a maternal figure, and Chin is annoying rather than endearing. The lack of chemistry hinders the film’s tension because the central relationship is not worth caring about. As a result, any peril the pair experiences is diminished since the audience doesn't see much to care about.


The killer in Dark Glasses tries their best to fill in where this relationship falters. Unfortunately, the need to keep their identity secret until the later acts, a trope for Giallo films, proves even more frustrating. The killer is missing on the screen and as an existential threat. Argento tries to compensated for this with some moments of violence, but they feel contrived and disconnected from the rest of the film. A viewer could be forgiven for thinking they mistakenly bought tickets to an ill-conceived foreign sitcom featuring an Italian call girl and her adopted Chinese son. Overall, Dark Glasses' plot is disjointed and creates more confusion than fear.


Courtesy of Rai Cinema

Despite these shortcomings in writing, Argento’s work behind the camera is easily the most interesting part of Dark Glasses. His use of color and lighting makes scenes come alive or feel sterile without being jarring the viewer. Every shot in the movie has something visually unique, with rarely two scenes being similar in camera angle, lighting, or even color palette. John Carpenter fans will recognize the directional style and lighting techniques that were innovated decades ago by Argento and other in the Giallo genre. Watching a master like Argento showing off his skills saves the films as it falls short in other areas.


Dark Glasses stands out for its departure from the “sex equals death” trope too familiar in horror. Like X (2022) earlier this year, Dark Glasses refrains from depicting all sex workers as helpless victims. Diana is presented as an empowered individual who is comfortable with herself despite outside judgements. Her story is not a redemption arc from prostitute to nun, as a puritanical American audience would expect. Instead, the audience must accept her as she is, no excuses offered. It is refreshing to a horror movie not steeped in outdated views of female sexuality.


Despite not being an impressive film or representative of Argento’s best work, Dark Glasses is a master class in visual technique that demonstrates that even long-established genres, and their creators still have something to offer.

Note: A previous version of this review appeared on on 6 Apr 2023.

Available on: 

Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, AppleTV

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