Director – Dario Argento
Cast – Adrien Brody, Elsa Pataky, Emmanuelle Seigner, Robert Miano, Silvia Spross, Daniela Fazzolari, Luis Molteni, Valentina Izumi, Lorenzo Pedrotti, Guiseppe Lo Console
Release Year – 2009
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Italian horror maestro Dario Argento has been on an obvious decline since his last “great” film, 1987’s Opera. While he has had some hit and miss films the last two decades, none have been as great as his 70s and 80s stuff, and he has taken much heat for that. I had heard really bad things about this film when it first began circulating throughout the horror realm, and after viewing this film I can honestly say that Dario Argento is the subject of some unfair treatment. It seems he is being held to the high expectations he set early on in his career, and while I can understand when a fan of his sees the infamous director’s name under the “Director” title, he/she immediately goes into the film expecting to be wowed, but that is not the case anymore. The times have changed, and unfortunately so have his filming techniques and writing abilities and he must be held to that factor. In other words, I chose to watch this film not as a “Dario Argento film”, but as a “film” in general, with no personal bias nor expectations, and it allowed me to see this film for what it is, which is a film not nearly as bad as naysayers say it is but actually an OK watch.
Giallo stars Adrien Brody as Inspector Enzo Avolfi, a man with a troubled past who is actively pursuing a dark and diabolical killer who kidnaps beautiful women in an attempt to make them as ugly as he is. When her sister disappears on her way home from a modeling show, Celine(Elsa Pataky; Beyond Re-Animator, Snakes on a Plane) pleads with Inspector Avolfi to look into her sister’s disappearance, which leads to the grisly conclusion that she has been kidnapped by the killer he is desperately searching for. The two then embark on the investigation together; a man determined to catch a killer plaguing the streets, and desperate women hoping to find the only love she has left in this world…her sister.
I felt intrigued when I began this film, simply because I had not seen an Argento horror film with such a modern look. It was not a bad thing at all, just took a little getting used to. From the get-go we are thrown into the psychotic world of this film’s killer, whom I did not like at first but slowly began to grow on me as the film progressed. Personally, I liked that he attacked models and other beautiful women, it is just more satisfying for me than if he were to kill ugly or “fat” women. If you can sense some anti-model resentment in my words, you are quite right, and I found the model-targeting by the killer to be quite fulfilling. This is made even more satisfying when we found out this reasoning behind targeting models, and the horror he went through to develop his distaste for them. We have all seen the “killer-with-a-dark-past” killers, but never one with the problems this killer went though that led him to suffer such a poor life. In all honesty, I felt a bit bad for this killer, and that is something I hardly EVER get from horror films, so bravo to this film’s writers for that one.
Speaking of writers, that brings me to my next element of the film…the story. This is the first film that Argento has directed that was not based on a screenplay written by him, although this script was written FOR him, although he did have a small hand in the finished script. The film’s two original writers, Jim Agnew and Sean Keller have written one of John Carpenter’s upcoming films, L.A. Gothic, so let’s see how that one turns out. The storyline for this flick is an interesting one on the surface, as I have always had a special place in my heart for these “giallo” flicks. We get an interesting killer with a pretty taste in victims, and I found him to be the first element of the story. Why? Well, ever other element in this film, both story-wise and character-wise is quite cliché. We get the usual “cop-with-a-dark-past” in Inspector Avolfi and the overly cliché tactic of having him team up with someone he shouldn’t even be teaming up with, Celine, a relative of a victim. This would have been even more cliché(but would have made more sense to this) fi they were romantically engaged, but that was never an element that was sought after, only merely hinted at and never employed. It was as if Inspector Avolfi and Celine were teamed together just to follow the “template” of these types of films. I would balk at that unoriginal idea even more, but Adrien Brody did a swell job in this role, so I”ll let it slide a bit given I was given something for this.
So how is Argento’s direction in this film? Well…for the most part it is positive. We get a few glimpses of his trademark classic camerawork(although not as much as I wanted), and he didn’t skimp out on the gore either. The kills were satisfying, and he executed them in a dark fashion which I also loved and fit this film well. For some reason it seems Argento can never get formidable performances from his female actresses, and it shows in this film. Both Celine and her sister Linda(Emmanuelle Seigner; The Ninth Gate) were both unlikable characters who were supplemented by horrible acting performances, and yes I believe that falls under a director’s “execution” given he/she has influence over an acting performance and final say over reshooting a scene. In the end I will go as far as saying that Argento is showing some promise to heading back to his roots in directing ability, but only his next film will prove me right or wrong.
Overall, this is an OK watch that I think has suffered some unfair criticism from those who expect it to be as epic as Argento’s earlier films. Allow the film to progress and it is sure to grow on you as the runtime increases, especially because of this film’s interesting and audience-absorbing killer.