2022 has gradually shaped into Dario Argento’s comeback year, something I never dared to expect from the 82-year-old Italo horror legend. The low-key giallo revival Dark Glasses is Argento’s first directorial credit in a decade and easily his best in twice as long. He was also shockingly great as the lead performer in Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, his first acting credit outside cameo roles & narration tracks. Of all the various ways Argento’s comeback year has taken shape, though, the least surprising has got to be his in-name-only producer credit on She Will, cosigning a younger artist’s work. Not only is Argento making movies again; apparently, he’s also entering his “Wes Craven Presents” era.
That stamp of approval goes a long way in Charlotte Colbert’s debut feature, especially since it’s an indictment of the macho, abusive brutes who occupied every director’s seat when Argento first started making artsy horror pictures in the 1970s. Is Malcolm McDowell’s pretentious, villainous abuser-auteur supposed to be a stand-in for Jodorowsky, for Polanski, for one of Dario’s fellow giallo greats? It doesn’t matter much, since the film is less about his behind-the-scenes crimes than it is about his victim’s delayed revenge. Alice Krige headlines as an ice-queen film actress whose star has faded; she channels her lingering resentments from that child-actor abuse on McDowell’s sets into a witchy, supernatural revenge. The mechanism of public #MeToo callouts simply isn’t enough; only black magic evisceration will do.
I very much vibe with She Will‘s burn-it-all-down political anger, so it’s a shame I couldn’t also vibe with its filmmaking aesthetics. Between its ominous shots of the woods and Krige’s mutually destructive relationship with her young nurse (helping her recover from a double mastectomy), it just ends up playing like a watered-down, VVitch-ed up version of Saint Maud. It’s well considered thematically, like in how the soil at Krige’s Scottish health retreat is enriched by the ashes of locally burned witches, strengthening both her skin and her witchy powers. Its most exciting ideas are just presented in the limpest nightmare-sequences around, with time-elapse nature footage edited together in the Elevated Horror equivalent of an Ed Wood montage. I almost want to say the film is worth it for Krige’s performance as the icy lead, but truth is she had a lot more to do in this same register as the mentorial witch in Gretel & Hansel. There just isn’t much to see here that hasn’t been covered by its sharper, more vivid contemporaries.
Regardless, I still think a “Dario Argento Presents” project is, by default, a more exciting turn for the actor-director-producer’s late career phase than an actual Dario Argento film. Dark Glasses is only interesting within the context of his larger catalog and can only feel like a faint echo of former glories. By contrast, throwing his name by newcomers like Colbert helps them get platformed at film festivals like Overlook and streaming services like Shudder, where She Will has earned a lot more sincere praise than I’m giving it here. It’s an investment in the future of horror filmmaking instead of a victory lap for its faded past, which according to this film was a lot more spiritually & morally bankrupt than we’ve ever fully reckoned with.
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