Does your life suffer from a recent lack of sleazy erotica, black-gloved killers holding straight-razors, and stage blood the color of Heinz ketchup? If so, maybe you’ve missed out on the recent resurgence of interest in giallo, the classic Italian subgenre of lurid mystery-thriller. The trend of making new works in the giallo style has resulted in several intriguing films of late, including Luciano Onetti’s Sonno Profondo. (The phrase is Italian for “deep sleep,” which is an alternate English title for the film, but not one I’ve seen in wide use.)
The film tells the story of a mysterious killer (played by Onetti, who also co-wrote, directed, shot and edited) who breaks into an apartment and stabs the resident, an erotic model, to death–and then finds the tables turned when a witness to the murder threatens retaliation. To say much more about the plot is doubly dangerous, not just because of the threat of spoilers, but one runs the risk of putting too much emphasis on the plot.
For Sonno Profondo is above all an exercise in style. Onetti presents the film in a heavily processed faux-grindhouse style, complete with fake film grain and scratches and a washed-out Technicolor palette. He devotes himself to replicating the giallo style to the point of parody. There’s barely any dialog, and most of the shots are extreme close-ups. We never even get an unobstructed view of the killer’s face, or the victim’s. Underlining all this is soundtrack of funk-inflected psych-rock instrumentals that recalls, and occasionally outdoes, the legendary Italian group Goblin.
The downside of this is that Sonno Profondo will gain little traction outside circles of giallo devotees. Wide audiences and even casual horror fans may find themselves alienated by he deliberately slow pace, lack of anything resembling character development (plus, it’s hard to fully engage with a protagonist when all you see of him is his hand), exaggerated “acting” and a score that can dismissively but not entirely inaccurately written off as “’70s porn music.” Nor is it likely to win the subgenre any converts–the uninitiated will find more effective gateways in period classics by Dario Argento and Mario Bava.
That aside, Sonno Profondo sets out to do a specific thing and it does a good job of it. Appealing beyond a small cult of genre fans was never part of the deal. If you’re a member of that cult, here’s a movie to cherish.