Ten years after his not-much-liked 3D Dracula – and a run of other wobbly items like Mother of Tears and Giallo – Dario Argento returns with a dusted-off script from 2002 (co-written by Franco Ferrini) that feels very much like the sort of thing he was doing circa The Card Player, Do You Like Hitchcock and Sleepless. It’s not a total write-off, but feels like a TV version of an Argento pastiche – all the elements are there, professionally assembled, but the delirium is missing (even Dracula had the vampire giant locust). Slickly watchable and well-paced, it looks and sounds good (Arnaud Rebotini’s synth score works) and has that familiar lost-in-Rome feel – but there are some significant demerits in plotting, performance and general tone.
It opens with an eclipse over Rome that prefigures the protagonist’s blindness but doesn’t connect thematically with anything else in the picture – in the old days, it’d have triggered the killer’s psychosis too – and is generally just shrugged off. Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) is a professional call girl, but seems to be an idea of a hooker formed well before 2002 … indeed, she could come from an era even before Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill. No, she’s not on the internet – and her schtick is turning up at hotel rooms in a short skirt and lingerie to have very inexplicit sex with older patrons. A serial killer is at large, garrotting prostitutes (three so far) – but he changes his m.o. to something Death Proofy and goes after Diana in his evil white van, shoving her into an intersection crash with another vehicle. She’s blinded and has to hide behind the title specs, but also feels guilty because the crash has orphaned young Chin (Andrea Zhang), who flees the orphanage to hang out with her. Friendly Rita (Asia Argento) helps Diana adjust to sightlessness and she gets a new companion in Nerea, a guide dog who is also handily trained to attack on cue. An undeveloped strand has the killer, Matteo (Andrea Gherpelli), be indentifiable by his strong smell – which has prompted Diana to insist he shower before becoming a client of hers, sending him off in a snit. He also works with dogs, but isn’t Nerea’s trainer. It’s as if the tabs that were supposed to tie the story together are just left flapping.
After a reel or so of Diana’s new life, the killer comes after her again and the film turns into a basic chase. As usual, the cops on the case are utterly useless – not even their colleagues care much if they get knifed while failing to find anything out. And it’s a sign of the passage of years that Asia Argento now gets stuck with the kind of nothingy superfluous secondary role her mother Daria Nicolodi got in her post-Phenomena roles for Dario. The chase is enlivened by the blind woman and her kid sidekick blundering into a pond full of snakes which wind around them in an icky, silly sequence that has no consequences. Cat O’ Nine Tails also had a blind character with a plucky sidekick, but here we get the umpteenth riff on Wait Until Dark – and one that compares poorly with the unheralded See For Me, which has the innovation of casting a genuinely vision-impaired lead. Open goals are consistently missed – surely, more interesting things could have been done with the smelly murderer or the dog with divided loyalties? And Pastorelli is weak – Diana is an infuriating character, but the playing doesn’t help much.
It’s Ordinary Argento – which might not be a complete embarrassment … but I’d not be surprised to find many prefer the Terrible Argento of Mother of Tears or Giallo, which at least stick in the memory.