A serial killer is on the loose on the streets of Turin, taunting the police with photos and videos of his gruesome crimes. Known only as Yellow, the police have no leads, until the sister of a recently missing woman visits Inspector Enzo Avolfi. Together they investigate, and try to crack the case before it's too late for Yellow's latest victim...
After a few duds, and the polarising Mother of Tears, Giallo marked not only Dario Argento's next foray back into the giallo genre, but a special one, if the title was anything to go by. Sadly the general reception was not positive, from critics or fans.
Despite being titled Giallo, this really feels little like that genre, instead bearing a greater resemblance to the spate of 'torture porn' films of the mid 2000s. This is especially disappointing when the name promises this will be the ultimate example of a giallo. There is little mystery, elaborate murders, or touches of art or colour here. Less Deep Red and more police procedural with a higher rating.
One of the film's biggest failings is that it really doesn't build suspense well. A perfect example is the first abduction, which happens so quickly and without effort. This is also evident in Celine being kidnapped immediately! The first victim has only just been abducted like 2 minutes prior, and we haven't even gotten to know the main characters yet, and already one of them's being kidnapped in the exact same way.
The worst example of this is the big reveal of the killer...or lack thereof. With zero build-up and no waning, boom, it just shows us his face, like it's no big deal! It feels like a scene is missing where we were introduced
Another issue is that basically there are no death scenes! There are parts where victims die, but these are mostly just brief flashes, or minor bits. Argento films past (and indeed most giallos) are built around wild death scenes, but here only one victim dies in the present. The film is more focused on showing torture, but even there it doesn't have much.
The climax happens a bit quickly, but once it gets going it's a fun moment, with a great death scene for the killer. The ending is disappointingly abrupt though, and kind of a downer. Nothing bad actually happens (in fact there's good news), but it's presented in such a strange way, and there's no resolution for the main pair.
Giallo is simultaneously a quiet yet loud film. The dialogue is often low and mumbly, but the screams are pitched VERY LOUDLY.
Enzo is your typical grizzled detective, haunted by a tragic past, and always speaking like he's in a noir. He has his good moments. Linda is likewise alright, and I liked her drive to find her sister despite the chances, although she comes across as bitchy sometimes, especially in the ending.
It's funny how petty the killer really is. He may be jaundiced, but if he simply washed his hair, went to the barber every now and then, and learned how to speak nicely to the ladies, he could charm them like...well, Adrien Brody! If only he realised that ugliness is a state of mind, and bought a damn comb!
Also amusing is that the killer is able to be bribed! When Linda's sister offers him money if he lets her go, he actually agrees! Funny, but also annoying, since it basically confirms we're getting no more deaths for the whole movie.
The last thing to mention about Yellow is something bound to distract most viewers. He's played by Adrien Brody! No, he's not a long lost twin, nor is Enzo the killer in a disguise twist. He's just playing a dual role, for no apparent reason. It's strange, and I'm not sure if it was a good idea or not. I guess it's worth it for the spectacle, as it's more amusing than the rest of the film.
Linda's sister spends the whole movie in the villain's clutches, but still gets some good moments. As she's the one seeing Yellow's atrocities firsthand, she's the one we identify with most. I also liked how tough she was when put up against the wall, badmouthing the murderer. "You're gonna cut me? I'll never be as ugly as you!"
The cast here is mixed. Ok at best, pretty poor at worst. Adrien Brody is a milquetoast lead, and doesn't get a lot to chew on. As the villain (credited as Byron Deidra) he is clearly having more fun, even if his performance verges on bizarre. It's also amusing how perfectly smooth and flawless his skin is, like a typical Hollywood leading man, while all the Italian cast look more 'human'. Emmanuelle Seigner is an ok co-star, while Elsa Pataky makes the most of what could be seen as a pretty thankless part.
Giallo looks like a TV production. So in other words, perfectly acceptable, but not up to par with Argento's previous standard. This wouldn't be a problem if the movie itself was still good, but as it is... The effects are fairly good though. A little goofy in places, and I laughed at the hammer death, but that shouldn't be seen as a complaint! The make-up for Yellow is a bit strange. It's not quite as yellow as you'd expect, and the prosthetic nose Brody gets is odd.
The direction is ok. I've read some say it's like Argento has forgotten to "block shots, or direct actors, or even move the camera", but I didn't find it that bad. It's not that great either. Overall it's passable, with a nice shot here and there. There were two little touches I liked. One is the yellow tinge of Enzo's flashbacks, which manages to be subtle and effective, living up to the name. And second is when we see the giallo books in the killer's apartment, and it's only a brief moment, rather than obviously lingering for a while.
One interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit is a lawsuit involving Adrien Brody. The production company didn't pay him the full amount owed. Thankfully this was just the producers being sneaky, and not Argento or the film itself responsible. Brody has stated he has nothing but good to say about them, which is a relief to hear.
Another factoid is that Argento was reportedly unhappy with the current 'producer's cut' of the film. Whether this is the truth, or just him trying to save face for having made yet more rubbish is up for debate. I'm inclined to believe him in this instance, given what I know about modern cinema and studios. Although I don't think this was ever much good even if in a director's cut (but I would watch. Not happily, but...).
Giallo isn't a terrible film in its own right, but when you consider who made it, it takes a serious dive, especially when you take its title into consideration. This is a film that arrogantly titled itself after a genre, as if to say it's the epitome and height of it. For it to be bad is one thing, but for it to not even be a giallo is pretty inexcusable...