Sometimes, it’s good to take a trip into something you’d never have considered even looking at. Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (or Tenebre) is a film I’d never have watched myself, but I’m glad I’ve seen it now. It’s slightly dated, but this didn’t limit how well it came across. There were a few things that didn’t work for me, but on the whole, I found myself liking a lot more about the film than what I took issue with.
At the heart of everything is an American writer (Anthony Franciosa) doing press for his latest novel in Rome. Whilst in the city, he is stalked by a serial killer who uses his book as an instruction manual for doing away with all the people associated with his work.
Tenebrae’s entire aesthetic is basically a work of art
I got the impression from the opening sequence that a stylish film lay ahead. Tenebrae opens with a passage from the title novel, and a track that you might hear at a 70s disco. It was an interesting creative decision, and I was proven right with my assumption about what was to come.
The film is very stylised. There isn’t a single detail that doesn’t work to be part of a what is essentially a moving painting. The sets, clean lines and clashing colours are all very eye-catching. The many constant camera movements helped to draw focus to each of these details and show them in their full glory. Everything is very deliberate, and shows a remarkable amount of attention to detail by the filmmakers.
With so much care taken with these things, it was as if the film had a supreme amount of self-confidence. The fact that everything was so deliberate screamed to me that this was a film that knew exactly what it was, and it would seem that this was very much the case for writer and director Argento as well.
A step into the unknown
I don’t remember ever seeing a giallo film before, so everything on display here was quite a new experience. It prompted me to read more about the genre and I was fascinated to learn there is an autobiographical element here. Argento had received a number of death threats in response to his previous works , which is sort of depicted in the plot here. However, it would appear that the film acts as bit of a two-fingered salute to those death threats, and the care and attention that has gone into all the finer details suggests he wasn’t holding back with his rebuttal either. It has bite, which I like a lot.
It does have a tendency to overindulge itself in places
Although I liked the style that Tenebrae possesses, there is the odd moment where it feels like it’s showing off more than anything else. Take the huge one-shot tour of the apartment block where the serial killer’s second and third victims meet their end, for example. This was something that went on forever, and I couldn’t figure out why. It didn’t add much in terms of tension, and didn’t feel like something that was done to showcase the decoration on set as there was very little to write home about at this particular moment.
The same goes for the handful of shots that lingered on smaller details throughout the rest of the film. Much of what happens in Tenebrae has impact, but there are moments where it gets a little too wrapped up in itself to fully deliver on all that it is capable of.
However, if I’m to talk about impact, I can’t ignore the ending. It is a super satisfying pay-off where everything falls into place, just like a good mystery should. As the first person to admit that they’re pretty blind when it comes to working these things out, I will hold my hands up and say that I didn’t see the murderer being the person they were. However, there were other things that fell into place in the final moments that blew my mind too; things that had previously puzzled me as to why they were included at all. There is a lot going on in Tenebrae, and to have all of the threads neatly bundled up was a nice ending as far as serial killer mysteries go.
This film went down way better than expected
I have a hard time getting to grips with the more classical horrors. However, films like Tenebrae show me there are creations from that period that do work for me. Perhaps it’s because it’s a slasher with a slightly different look, or a story that is sort of timeless – who knows? The honest answer is I don’t, and I probably will never be able to put a finger on it. Sometimes, things just work for you, and this was one such instance.