Francesca is, in the purest and simplest of terms, absolute giallo. It captures in totality the essence of a genre that exists still as one of the most distinctive and cultishly adored sub genres in horror history, touched by masterful mavericks such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, who crafted images that blurred the lines between beauty and barbarism in worlds laced with mystery and madness.

In the true tradition of the genre, Francesca follows two detectives in the pursuit of a serial killer who, after butchering his victims, leaves references to Dante’s Divine Comedy with the body. As the body count grows, they realise the key to discovering the killer’s identity is to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young girl 15 years ago. The film follows in the recent footsteps of the likes of Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet’s Amer and Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, and Astron-6’s The Editor, as a work of genre homage, and it is remarkable how accurate Francesca is in capturing the very essence of the Giallo in its stylisation. There are so many details that director Luciano Onetti orchestrates in the construction of film, from obvious visual motifs such as the abundance of point of view shots, exaggerated and frequently schizophrenic soundtrack, the murder set piece and the icon of the gloved, ambiguous killer; to more subtle nods such as the use of J&B Whiskey and the twisting narrative form that features familial, gender and social confusion at the core of the mystery being weaved. It’s a truly spectacular blending of sleazy saturation, pop art excess, bad dubbing and dark desires.  Of all the works to inspire the visual and narrative of Francesca, Dario Argento’s iconic Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) appears to be the strongest factor in both visual and narrative shape, and in choosing such an architype as its core influence, Onetti is able to build a spine to layer texture upon texture, reference upon reference, while still maintaining structure in the anarchy of ideas.

Perhaps the one distinct flaw early in the film is one that comes inherently with creating such a direct work of homage: the difficulty in finding an original identity within the blend of reference. The fact that it is so perfectly reflective of other works, creates a sense early in the film of a work of collage rather than a complete picture; a restless storm of images and ideas that holds power, but doesn’t focus in to craft its own true voice, almost echoing within the spaces sculpted by other creators, like a spectre wandering the halls of giallo’s past itself. This elusiveness juxtaposed with the sheer directness of the vision can be quite jarring, but as the film builds, what becomes most impressive is that rather than continuing to merely imitate, becoming flat and monotonous in the display of iconography and cliché in the process, it only builds in confidence as it progresses. Set pieces form naturally with the momentum of the narrative, holding reference to classic moments (the confrontation between the killer and a pianist of course heavily referential to the aforementioned Deep Red) but becoming grisly and leering spectacles within themselves, and this sense of vitality ultimately leads to an archetypal giallo conclusion, executed with finesse and surprise, feeling true to the spirit of the classics, while marking itself as a genuinely effective thriller. It’s a wonderfully nasty sting in the tail that confirms not only Francesca’s credentials as a superior work of homage, but also helps elevate it as thrilling genre work in its own right.

Francesca is a joyous example of pure referential love captured on film; it succeeds as a work of both style and tone in the grandest traditions of the form. In devoting itself entirely to texture of the genre, Francesca walks a fine line between homage and vacancy of originality; however, as the film develops, it matures into a truly delightful slice of throwback cinema, marked by the balance between the tenderness of its imitation and commitment to delivering a thrilling ride.

Horror Channel Frightfest review: Francesca
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk