Tenebrae (1982)

Have you ever watched a movie that, for the first third, is so boring despite its pedigree that you’re resigned to simply being done with it, then the climax comes along and blows you away? That’s what “Tenebrae” is. Seriously, the first 80 minutes or so are some of director Dario Argento’s least effective set pieces and most perplexing artistic choices: The stalking scenes are long-winded and downright boring (to the point where my mind was wandering during the killing scenes, which I’m assuming was not the intended impact), while some of the characters are so ill-defined that it’s impossible to figure out exactly what they’re up to. For instance, there’s Christian Borromeo’s Gianni, who, I assume, works as a gofer-of-sorts for a publishing house assigned to lead character Peter, but has a decidedly homoerotic relationship with his boss… which is never addressed, and really distracting. There’s also Daria Nicolodi’s Anne, whose character arc and motivation seem to change depending on what each respective scene requires, which makes it really hard to know what to make of her (and Nicolodi’s brittle performance doesn’t help). However, the climax rolls around… and it’s such utter, out-of-nowhere pandemonium, so filled with twists and turns that it actually gets hard to keep up with the relentless, lunatic developments (not unlike Argento’s own “Phenomena”) that your ears and eyes prop up, “Clockwork Orange”-style. It’s hard to deny how effective the loony finale is, not to mention beautifully shot (I never thought I would admire a shot of a woman getting her arm cut off, but here we are), so in the end, it rescues the movie from doldrums because getting there is a bit on the cure-for-insomnia side.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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