I rented the DVD of Dario Argento's latest, Giallo (2009) this past weekend. I didn't have very high hopes for it, based on reviews and his other recent films (the execrable Mother of Tears, the ridiculous Phantom of the Opera), so I wasn't really surprised at its mediocrity. Nor did it surprise me that it was really nothing more than a series of strung-together Argento tropes. What surprised me is just how very little enjoyment this film has. If you're just going to repeat situations and storylines from your earlier, better films, Mr. Argento, can't you at least do it with vigor?
Ironically, it's not even a giallo—it's a policier. A throwback to his films of the 1970s (think Four Flies on Grey Velvet), it stars Adrien Brody as Inspector Enzo Avolfi, an FBI agent working in Turin to catch a murderer whose victims are all beautiful young women. He's a weird guy, working alone in the basement of the police station, and given to fits of rudeness. When Celine, a fashion model (Elsa Pataky), is abducted by the killer, her sister, Linda (Emanuelle Seigner, Polanski's wife) approaches him for help.
Not only does he comfort her by reassuring her that's he's convinced that Celine has been snatched by the murderer (!) and is next on the chopping block, he immediately takes her on as a partner on the case, showing her all the confidential files and even taking her out on his various investigations. It's bizarre. Meanwhile, Celine is tied up to a table in the killer's basement abode while another victim lays on the floor nearby. Evidently he likes to take his time with them, destroying their beauty gradually until he finally puts them out of their misery.
Now from this brief synopsis, you might think this is a pretty good set-up for some decent Argento magic, if perhaps a tad too reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs or Hostel. Well, it's not. The director does an okay job of propelling the story forward, but he doesn't embellish it or add any creative spark. It's strictly CSI: Turin.
Frederic Fasano's cinematography is pretty flat, and the dark/night scenes all appear to have been force-processed, resulting in extraneous light and a lot of grain. It just looks cheap. And the art direction involves a lot of yellow...yellow walls, yellow buildings, yellow skies—yeah, we get it.
Even Sergio Stivaletti's gore makeup (which is used very sparingly) is strictly latex-and-blood-bladder retro. There's a face-stabbing scene which had the potential to be really horrifying, but the obvious rubber mask being penetrated is pretty ridiculous. Speaking of gore, Argento seems to be dipping his toes into the waters of torture porn, but loses his nerve when it comes to diving in completely.
The killer, known as Giallo (Byron Deidra), taunted since childhood because of his jaundiced, yellow skin, looks hilariously like a cross between Ron Wood and Bruce Springsteen. At first, his black, soulless eyes and heavily-accented, staccato delivery are creepy, but when he starts huffing aerosol cans and sucking on a baby pacifier, all with this bizarre little grin on his face, it just becomes risible. His backstory is that his mother was a junkie who contracted every strain of hepatitis, giving him chronic jaundice and liver disease, and abandoned him at an orphanage when he was born. The other children laugh and taunt him because of his skin color, but the fact is he's just friggin' weird looking!
Seigner is about ten years too old for her character and considering she was already pretty bovine even in 1999's The Ninth Gate, it's amusing to see Brody lug her around town like a hotcha—and worse—get spellbound by her beauty while he watches her sleeping on his couch!
Speaking of sleeping, that's what Brody's doing in this film. Considering he served as a producer and also allegedly doctored the script and interfered in every other aspect, he seems to have neglected his performance. His line deliveries are flat and toneless (sometimes inaudible), and nothing that happens in the story seems to shock or excite him. (Okay, frankly I felt the same way.) But if you were so invested in the making of this film, wouldn't you be encouraged to provide a more arresting performance?
Oh—and Afolvi has his own typical Argento backstory. As a child, he witnessed the brutal murder of his mother at the hands of one of her party attendees (I guess he didn't like the hors d'oeuvres) and then, as a teenager, exacted his revenge upon the killer. The only remarkable aspect of this plot element is that they found a kid with a nose as pronounced as Brody's (except I think it was a make-up job).
And this is the second film I didn't want to see Brody as a cop in. The first was 2006's Hollywoodland, which was one-half a great biography about Superman George Reeves (played by Ben Affleck) and one-half a shitty detective story with Brody!
Giallo's exciting "climax" occurs when Avolfi has finally identified Giallo and has tracked him down to his lair—but of course, he's not there, and neither is Celine. Linda is furious at Avolfi, screaming obscenities at him as he walks away ineffectually.
I'm not going to give away any spoilers (like anyone cares), but the American DVD release ends with an obvious video freeze frame, followed by obvious video end credits—all evidence of your classic patch-up job. I wonder what other footage there was. It certainly wouldn't have helped fix the film, that's for damn sure.
Maybe Argento is making films like Giallo and Mother of Tears to make his fans think that The Stendahl Syndrome and Non Ho Sonno are classics. If that's the case...it's working!
Well, up next for Argento is Dracula 3D, with daughter Asia as Lucy and Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing. Luciano Tovoli is back behind the camera. He shot Suspiria and Tenebrae for Argento, so that's an encouraging sign. The story is so well worn, though, I can't imagine that it will make the creative juices flow for ol' Dario. All we can hope is that it will be attractively filmed, the actors will look good, the story will be reverent, and the 3D will add to the fun. God knows where we'll be able to see it, though. I can't imagine it getting a theatrical release in the States.