The Horror Honeys: A Journey into Art House Throwback with 'Francesca'

A Journey into Art House Throwback with 'Francesca'

All photos courtesy of Jinga Films

A New Release Review with Revenge Honey Addison Peacock

Francesca (2017)

The opening credits sequence of Giallo-throwback Francesca (released abroad in 2015 and just making its US debut) is an exercise in discomfort. Dissonant sounds, harsh light, and disturbing imagery play together with an almost desperate need to unnerve its audience. A child’s voice sings in the background while a little girl gleefully prods at the carcass of a dead bird and a creepy broken doll watches the scene unfold. It is unsettling, weirdly magnetic, and almost nonsensical, and it sets up exactly what is to come throughout the rest of the film. If you are enticed by this opening sequence and want to watch the rest of the film, go right ahead. It is a film with many artistic merits and if it is the sort of film that you enjoy you should certainly watch it. However, if you chose to stop your viewing here, you would not miss very much. The entire film can be boiled down to that one moment, that one sequence: a lovely young girl in harsh sunlight, beautifully and artfully stabbing a dead bird over and over and over again.

Chucky is a lot artsier than I remembered...

Francesca, an art house crime thriller directed by Luciano Onetti, is all about a continuous and artfully executed assault on the senses. From the use of harsh bright light in some scenes and darkness in the others to the bold use of color (particularly red) and the relentless booming soundtrack, this film does not want you to rest or be a passive audience member.

The film does, of course, have a plot. There is a framework around which the film’s iconic imagery must be built. In Italy, fifteen years after the disappearance of a beloved artist’s daughter Francesca, a serial killer terrorizes a community. The killer strikes based on their goal to rid the city of “impure” souls and bases their crimes on Dante’s The Inferno. Two detectives are tasked with solving the case, and determining if it has any connection to the girl who went missing fifteen years prior. This is a promising story, and it could have been a compelling one if the story hadn’t taken such a backseat to the more stylistic aspects of the film. Instead of expository shots, storytelling, or dialogue, most of the film is comprised of moody shots of broken baby dolls or gloved hands accomplishing vaguely menacing tasks. The film lingers on these montages of general horror, leaving the mystery and the actual crime part of the crime thriller behind.

There's an 'I'm ready for my closeup' joke in here somewhere...
Francesca’s greatest flaw as a film is its tendency to prioritize style over substance. Imagery takes a front seat while story hangs out in the back. This is not inherently a negative quality, but it should be acknowledged. This is a highly visual experience, meant to evoke specific responses and reactions through imagery. The story is, at times, compelling, but the film’s priority is not to tell the story. Francesca as a film is less about the mystery at its supposed center and more about existing as an extended showcase of disturbing visual art. The characters, for what little time they appear onscreen, have no real inner life, no way to engage with the audience. Just like the myriad creepy dolls that appear on screen, the characters are props, just small components of a larger picture that is built around them, rather than active participants. This does not make Francesca a bad film, but it does create a film that is of an extremely particular style. It is certainly not for everyone and not the sort of film that is light or easy to watch. It is fascinating to look at, yes, but there is no story to grab onto, as the film’s “crime thriller” elements are kept in the shadow of its style.

When your eyeliner is as sharp as the weapon that is about to murder you.
Watching Francesca often feels like watching two completely disparate films. One is a piece of visual art, a compilation of silent films that almost approach the world of theatre of the grotesque. The other is a gritty, solemn crime drama about a missing girl and a killer on the loose. The film flicks back and forth between these two worlds, but they never quite seem to meet. Perhaps this disjointed quality was deliberate, perhaps it was not, but nevertheless, it is present and is likely to be divisive amongst audience members. Some audience members prefer one of the movies they are watching, some prefer the other. Some want to watch the two detectives butt heads with the police department around them and work to solve the mystery, while others are content with beautifully crafted shots of a lurid red-gloved hand cupping a bright green apple and slowly injecting poison into it. Neither side is wrong, but both sides might find themselves somewhat frustrated with this film.

Francesca is a very unique piece of filmmaking, and for that reason, it is very much worth a watch. It operates with an alternating delicate beauty and harsh brutality that is fascinating if at times upsetting. Though it is not as story-driven as it could be, it succeeds at doing exactly what it sets out to do. No, it is not a fun film to watch, nor is it a film you would want to screen for a movie night with friends, but it is its own sort of horror film, one that lives in a decidedly strange world. At the end of the day, it enthralls, it disturbs, and it forces you to look at dozens of terrifying dolls. What else, really, is a horror film supposed to do?

Revenge Honey Rating: 6/10 Broken Porcelain Dolls