It’s both fitting that Dario Argento would name one of his films after the genre he helped launch internationally and infuriating that he would presume to give such an encompassing title to arguably the worst feature of his long decline. In Argento’s increasingly incompetent hands, Giallo may well stand for a third-rate riff on the genre, a paint-by-numbers collection of tropes that Argento invented that come across as self-parody. Admittedly, the word is Italian for “yellow,” which describes the jaundiced flesh of its killer, a depraved cab driver who mutilates women for his own sick kicks. But in every respect this feels like a boilerplate attempt to make a giallo in the harsher horror landscape of the Aughts, resulting in a film that lacks an ounce of the director’s once-potent energy in favor of a sluggish, brutish bore.

It begins, of course, in an opera house, the camera peering into boxes and down into the seats with ominous intent. Yet no sooner does it do this than two Asian women in the audience decide to leave before the show even starts in order to go to a nightclub. It’s almost admirable that Argento wasted the time and money to shoot in an opera hall just to introduce two characters who apparently have no issue with shelling out the cash for good seats and bailing while the house music is still playing. Yet the complete illogic and rapidly shifting, awkwardly juxtaposed locales define the film’s slipshod assembly, which darts from place to place as if trying to outrun not its killer but its own flaccid and nonsensical script.

Naturally, one of the women is abducted and tortured, though the plot isn’t set in motion until an upper crust white model, Celine (Elsa Pataky), is kidnapped. In her terror, Celine’s sister, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), contacts Inspector Enzo Avolfi, a New Yorker working on the Turin police force. Argento has long exploited having to use English-language film stars for his movies by emphasizing the cultural and language barriers their characters face, but he takes things a step too far with the baffling incompatibility of a man who does not speak a word of Italian somehow being an officer in the Italian police. Furthermore, Enzo is so lazily sketched as American it’s a wonder he doesn’t wear a “I <3 NY” shirt, and Adrien Brody plays him with all the muttering dullness of a 2000s brooding hero. Seigner, who has radiated intensity and wrath throughout her career, is here reduced to meekly following behind the male lead, Linda interjecting with nothing more than anxious reminders of her sister’s plight.

The sedentary scenes of Enzo investigating the killer as he continues to navigate his way around Italy’s police force while speaking only English are offset by interspersed moments of brutality in the killer’s lair. It feels prudish to fault Argento for excessive violence; this is, after all, the man who elevated bloodletting to modern art in cinema. But the violence here is completely divorced from the baroque, playful invention of his classic work; here, there is only the dripping pipes and moldy walls of torture porn as a backdrop to the simple, direct, and repellent mutilation of women. If this was Argento’s bid to stay relevant in the contemporary horror landscape, it fails miserably, reducing him to an anonymous schlockmeister who can only be identified by his gratuitous use of extremely angled shots.

Similarly, the plot’s erratic spurts are not an unseen quality of Argento’s films, but there’s a fine line between the reality-blurring dream logic of his finest work and mere chaos, and the director crossed it so long ago that at this stage his two-decade gold run almost seems a series of flukes. Giallo leaps between disconnected, sluggish scenes and fills in gaps of character motivation with superfluous flashbacks of our hero witnessing his mother’s senseless murder as a child and the villain being born to a heroin-addicted mother who entrusted her infant to Italy’s nastiest nuns. Admittedly, Argento disavowed the final cut, which was assembled by producers who were then sued by Brody for unpaid wages that held up the film for years. But there’s nothing here to suggest that any amount of cutting could save it, and it may have been a favor to all involved if Brody had managed to keep it sealed indefinitely. The whole thing is a depressing glimpse into just how far a former master had fallen, reaching a nadir that appears to be permanent.

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