Giallo (2009) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive violence, gore, nudity, sexual situations, drug use, and language
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, Elsa Pataky, Robert Miano, Valentina Izumi
Director: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Jim Agnew, Sean Keller
Review published September 16, 2013
Ranking among the very worst releases from Italian-thriller maestro Dario Argento (Do You Like Hitchcock?, Inferno), Giallo suffered a multitude of production problems that unfortunately affected the story that eventually appeared on the screen. Though the term 'giallo' is the name for a type of Italian mystery-thrillers that Argento has become synonymous with, his film plays much more like a modern-day example of torture porn, in which helpless characters are slashed, gashed and dismembered by their captors with little reason from a story angle except to titillate sickos attracted to the sight of blood and violence inflicted on those who can't do anything about it.
The term 'giallo', in addition to its aforementioned significance in film and lit, is also, literally, the Italian word for 'yellow', which is what the main antagonist is called due to his yellow skin, due to some disease he had since he was a youth. Giallo cruises around looking for supermodel-hot women he can kidnap, ties them up in his underground lair, and begins to slash and dissect them until they look hideous, heedless of their screams of agony. Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Brody, Cadillac Records) is on the case, investigating the claim of a woman named Linda (Seigner, The Ninth Gate) regarding the disappearance of her sister Celine (Brody's girlfriend at the time, Pataky, Snakes on a Plane).
Although set in Turin, Italy, Giallo is an English-language production with an international cast of actors, though within the context of the film, there is little sense that can be made from the casting choices. At its core, the plot is just another thriller featuring a reclusive psychopath who hunts down beautiful women to drag back to his lair, mutilate, and kill.
Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, who also earns a producer credit for bailing out the struggling production that saw several notable cast changes and legal problems (Brody sued the makers of the film for not being fully paid), takes a dual role as both cop and criminal (he is credited in the latter as 'Byron Deidra', which is a clever anagram of his name), and despite his talent, he's downright awful in both roles. As the cop, all he does is chain smoke cigarettes and look around the room morosely, making an anguished face (you see, he saw his killed by a psychopath similar to the ones he now tries to apprehend), as if he's trying to hold in flatulence. As the string-haired, potbellied criminal, he mumbles incoherently, like some sort of extra from Labyrinth, or like Gollum if he had popped a few downers.
It has been a long time since Dario Argento has made a notable, worthwhile work, but fans keep hoping he'll return to the brilliance of the fims he would regularly put out in the 1970s and early 1980s. Alas, as Giallo shows, his grasp has only been getting worse, to the point where, if not for his already established reputation, he'd probably find himself outside of the filmmaking business altogether.
Giallo is a shockingly amateurish work, with a nearly nonexistent storyline, razor-thin characterizations, and, though there are plenty of shocks, there's no suspense (or even just something of interest) to be found. Perhaps the only hook in the film is one that is incidental, as it is fairly obvious that both beleaguered cop and sadistic crook are played by Brody, so we're left wondering if perhaps it's a Jekyll and Hyde situation, or perhaps if Enzo had a long-lost twin brother who had the stinky end of the stick in life and has turned to evil.
I'll make no bones about this: Giallo is a terrible movie, pure and simple, and is the kind of shoddy work that even most first-time directors could make better, which makes the glaringly incompetent work Argento turns in here unfathomable. It's neither scary nor funny, and, what's worse, it is almost stripped out of the very sort of virtuoso style that makes even bad Argento outings interesting. If you're the type who gets off on the sight of helpless women's fingers chopped off, faces slashed with sharp knives, and the like, perhaps this exceedingly misogynistic work will appeal to someone out there (i.e., Hostel enthusiasts). But, for the vast majority of potential viewers, the experience of Giallo is likely to be somewhere within the spectrum of extremely nauseating and abysmally boring.
In poetry, the color 'yellow' can symbolize not only fear, but also 'sickness'. Giallo, the movie, inspires little fear, but boy is it ever sick. Most likely you will be too, if you're unfortunate enough to give this abhorrent movie a go.
©2013 Vince Leo