This is a good movie, but apart from the opening fifteen minutes and a few flamboyant murder scenes it's nothing special. Dario Argento has created yet another "investigators hunt down serial killer with implausibly contrived gimmick" film. It's attractive and well filmed, but most of its running time would slot in quite happily beside the likes of Seven or The Bone Collector.
Admittedly there is some authentic Argento magic. The first fifteen minutes are fantastic, guaranteed to keep you chewing the cushions. In fact any scene with death or danger brings out Argento's natural flamboyance and creativity. Undeniably the man has flair. However the rest of the movie had me wondering why film-making was so much more interesting in the seventies. No doubt I'm either reinventing the wheel or talking out of my hat, but I think I've found a possible answer.
Basically, today we're too good at film-making.
Back in the seventies, they were still inventing cinema as we know it. Black-and-white classics were still being made right up into the sixties (Romero's original Night of the Living Dead was 1968) and the cinematic language of those is different. You can be more abstract, more expressionist. Thus seventies films tend to have a rough edge to them, a certain rawness. They're not afraid to include an ugly shot. Whereas today, everything looks pretty. Every shot is beautifully framed and the art of cinematography has been honed in generations of film schools. The result is predictability. Today's films look packaged. Just by looking at the cinematography, you can tell whether any given character is going to be a major player in the movie. How big is their close-up? Does the director linger on their reaction shot for that extra fraction of a second? Hollywood will never be short of cinematic illiterates and incompetents, but today they're *slick* incompetents. They can quote McKee and Campbell like masters; they just don't, deep down, understand 'em.
This modern endemic prettiness has infected Dario Argento... sort of. Much of the movie feels like any other well-made commercial serial killer flick, but there's always the Italian setting. That's always fun to look at - and wow, rich Italians live well! (Italian policemen are a bit of a culture shock too.) There's also some endearingly ridiculous acting here and there, to remind us of the days when a director would give comedy cameos to himself, his dustman and the bloke who wandered onto the set delivering pizzas. As a further oddity (and this isn't a criticism, just something that struck me), the young male actors in this look incredibly gay.
The plot is... well, does something like this need a plot? The clues and revelations-to-be are so immediately obvious that you'll assume they're red herrings.
Only two characters stood out for me, one in a good way and one in a bad way. The bad one was that bearded boyfriend whom we're obviously meant to dislike because he talks like the Queen of England. I'm sorry, but that got on my tits. The character's a good thirty years too young for that accent. But the good character - no, the *great* character - was Ulisse Moretti, because he's played by Max von Sydow. That's one awesome actor. I could watch him reading the telephone directory and still be captivated. The man is a deity among mortals and I am not worthy. Seriously, it's worth watching this movie just for him.
A little birdie told me that Argento indulged in self-plagiarism with Sleepless. It even plays out like a sequel to an earlier, unseen Argento - but I can live with that. Who cares whether the killings are stolen from his earlier movies, when they're so blatantly the best bits of this one? (Answer: someone who's seen them, probably.) And they're accompanied by a Goblin soundtrack that kicks much arse.
Like I said at the start, this is a good movie. It even has a few funny moments, such as the room full of dwarves. However I wasn't looking for a "good movie"; I can rent hundreds of those from Blockbusters. If you're hoping to be blown away by trademark Dario Argento, there's enough here to tantalise you but not a full-length feast.