Dario Argento's Giallo (2009) EXCLUSIVE REVIEW!

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As detractors often like to comment, Dario Argento’s glory days are long behind him. Once the most respected filmmaker in his native Italy, the likes of Deep Red and Suspiria would later give way to such ill-advised efforts as The Phantom of the Opera and Do You Like Hitchcock?. His last offering, Mother of Tears, had been highly anticipated but due to the mishandling by the studio the movie failed to re-ignite his career as fans had hoped. Returning to the genre that had served him best, Giallo shows the director once again exploring similar territory to his earlier work, combining a slasher-style villain with a poliziesco detective thriller.

gialloGiallo would mark the feature debut of writers Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, devised as an homage to their favourite director. By chance it found its way onto his desk, its story of a deranged serial killer preying on beautiful, young women immediately recalling the genre which he had helped popularise in the early seventies. Whilst his attempts at exploring the supernatural had mostly failed, each time he had returned to the giallo formula fans and critics would take notice once again.

The film opens with two Japanese girls leaving an opera in the hope of finding some excitement, eventually making their way to a disco. With her friend preoccupied with a man on the dance floor, Keiko (Valentina Izumi) decides to head back to the hotel, but with rain pouring down heavily she tries to catch a taxi. Realising that she is being taken the wrong way, the cab soon heads down a deserted road where the driver pulls over. A moment later, he pounces and manages to overpower her.

What is immediate about the film is the dramatic and dominating score by Marco Werba, which constantly builds tension before any action takes place. At this point, the killer is obscured in the darkness, only his menacing eyes are made visible through the rear view mirror. Keiko is taken to an isolated location where she is strapped down in what resembles the kind of torture room one would expect to find in Hostel.

ni_gialloThe next introduction is Celine (Elsa Pataky), an attractive young catwalk model. Her older sister, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), has come to visit her and decides to wait at her apartment. But on her way back home, Celine has the misfortune of catching the same taxi as Keiko and soon finds herself in the basement with the killer’s other victim. Unfortunately, perhaps the film’s greatest weakness is its antagonist, portrayed by Byron Deidra, who seems to resemble a bizarre cross between John Merrick and Bruce Springsteen. Whilst such perverse behaviour as sucking on a child’s dummy and masturbating to photographs of his victims may have been intended as disturbing, it simply comes across as ridiculous and comical.

When Celine fails to return home, Linda heads to the police station, where she is confronted by an unhelpful desk sergeant. Eventually, she is sent downstairs to the office of Inspector Avolfi (Adrien Brody), an unorthodox and strange cop who is heading the investigation of young women who had recently fallen foul of the same maniac. Surprisingly, Brody delivers an excellent performance as the moody and mysterious Avolfi, constantly chain-smoking and scenery-chewing his way through the movie. I have never been a fan of his before but I was impressed by his intensity and deadpan humour. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Seigner, who seems to sleepwalk through her role with little emotion or conviction.

Those wondering why this film is called Giallo may be enlightened if they have a minor understanding of Italian. ‘Giallo’ means yellow, and was named after the thriller novels of the thirties and forties which came with bright yellow covers. But the title of the film also refers to the killer, who was blessed with the nickname Yellow by cruel children who had teased him because of the sickening colour of his skin, which had been caused by a liver disease. His mother had been a drug addict and had remained a user during her pregnancy, only to abandon the baby at a convent soon after his birth.

giallo11He is not the only character to have a complex past. Avolfi has spent his life tortured by the events of his childhood, in which he had witnessed the brutal murder of his mother. Years later, when he had returned from New York, the teenage boy had finally tracked down the man responsible and carried out a savage revenge. In some ways, Brody’s performance somewhat echoes Liam Cunningham’s in The Card Player, in which he had played a British agent tracking down a serial killer who was targeting beautiful women. He would certainly prove more competent than many of Argento’s other cop characters, such as Deep Red‘s Supt. Calcabrini and Tenebrae‘s Detective Giermani.

Whilst Giallo may lack originality or that classic Argento feel, it is still an enjoyable, if flawed, experience. The cinematography is seductively shot by Frederic Fasano and the gore is plentiful; with slit throats, crushed skulls and severed lips contributing to the blood flow. Once again, most of the victims are beautiful women which may provoke the usual accusations of misogyny, but Avolfi’s utter disgust at the killer’s actions steers the film away from simple exploitation.

giallo12Many of the usual flaws that have dogged his work over the last twenty-five years are thankfully absent, such as awful dubbing and an annoying heavy metal soundtrack. But, as with many Argento thrillers, the greatest disappointment is the villain, who seems too pantomime-like to be genuinely scary. And whilst he becomes more sympathetic as his character develops, the film works better when he is not on screen. Giallo‘s greatest assets are without a doubt Brody and Werba, both of whom deliver exactly what is needed, and whilst this is unlikely to win over those who feel that Argento has had his day, it boasts enough interesting ideas to warrant a viewing.

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11 Responses to “ Dario Argento's Giallo (2009) EXCLUSIVE REVIEW! ”

  1. I look forward to picking up some tips for my next kill-krazy slaughter spree!…..

  2. I’ll have to check this one out sometime. Sounds pretty gory at least.

  3. i cant wait to see this im a huge argento and italian horror fan , can someone tell me when this comes to dvd?

  4. No news as yet, but we’ll keep you updated!

  5. Hi, This reviewer kinda misses the point of the entire movie, and I dunno if he’s intentionally being coy or not. If you go and see this movie then have a look at the killer actor’s name very closely. I was at this premiere (having been on tenterhooks for months) and if you’ve read the pre-opening rumours before you go then this movie will drive you nuts and a whole new dimension to the film and dialogue will be open to you which you will only get the first time you see it. I can’t say any more and I’m not posting any real spoilers …

    I’d generally echo his points about the film, although I’d add there were a zillion references to Argento’s previous work plus a ton of literary things in there too. It seemed like the movie was giving a nod to Hostel et all with some of the torture stuff. Camera work was indeed as lush as the killer was awful. Looked like a Rambo joke to me. I’d also like to add that the film we saw seemed a bit scratchy in places and there seemed to be an enormous bit of back-story trimmed out at one point. I wonder how the dvd version will play out? I also wonder how the USA will cut the movie – keep all the gore and push it as a horror or trim it and make it more of a trad thriller? I’d like to see this movie recut with less killer and the extra Horror-porn junk snipped (not offended, just seemed inappropriately done, unlike the stabbings etc which were pure Dario style). This would leave more time for character development (I suspect there may be a ton on the cutting room floor) making Giallo a bit more like Deep Red.

  6. No, I got the point. I am quite capable of understanding an Argento film. The protagonist was interesting, the killer was comical, and the film was an homage to his previous work. Having interviewed both the writers last year, I’m well aware of their intentions. This is a review, it’s called having an opinion. I’m sure some people’s opinions of this movie will differ to mine (some will like it more, some will hate it) but that’s the wonderful thing about art!

  7. “the killer was comical”:

    is it on purpose?
    the killers in Argento’s films are sometimes OTT…

  8. I am not a huge Argento fan but I enjoyed this film. As an homage it worked fine. I think Brody did fine in redoing the style of acting one finds in the Italian giallo and police polizieschi films of the 70′s. The dialog is reminiscent as well of the dubbed dialogs of the period. I am doing a little write up myself of the film and I often come to your site to get your slant on slasher.stalker style films. First time I left a comment. Well done site here.

  9. The previous commenter is alluding to the fact that ‘Byron Deidra’ is a pseudonym (and anagram of) Adrien Brody. He plays the killer as well as the cop.

    I was impressed at how ‘period’ the film looked – I really would have thought it was a late 70′s early 80′s production if I hadn’t known better. I do however miss the technicolour loveliness of Argento’s earlier (and best) films.

  10. i think that the whole topic of the film was almost known….i had almost see better films than this one. i cannot say that i have enjoyed the film because the real subject wasn´t quite clear to understand….it could be made better….

    ps.: i was a bit shocked when i see adrian brody in this film as a protagonist, because he could take part in better filmscences.

    thank you

  11. A disappointing letdown and a snoozefest with unintentionally laughable scenes–or were they? The bravura camerawork, the music that sticks in your mind, the overall virtuoso style–all gone. Brody sued to block the US release after Hannibal Film didn’t pay him. That’s the real horror story here.

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