Luciano Onetti’s Francesca is a new film but there is no reason why it wouldn’t fit comfortably within a selection of horror films released in the 1970s. The Italian giallo type of filmmaking, made popular by Dario Argento and Mario Bava (to name a few), was interested in combining the sense of mystery with other horror elements and giving a sense of the fantastic. These films were hugely popular in their era and many have since, tried to replicate this kind of filmmaking.
Francesca is the closest and most sincere homage to giallo films and yet Onetti’s film feels just as relevant and exciting for today’s audience. Onetti and his team have worked hard to make the film feel like the 1970s, through from the setting to the costuming but also technically in terms of how it looks on screen – a beautiful graininess is applied as well as the vocal dub that was used in giallo gone by.
What’s even more exciting is that Francesca isn’t even style over substance because it has an absolutely brilliant mystery at it’s heart that keeps the audience guessing, even once the credits are rolling.
Two detectives (Luis Emilio Rodriguez and Gustavo Dalessanro) are tracking a serial killer – someone who has been killing people and leaving their bodies around town with a very unusual calling card. These killings, often Dantesque in nature, have the officers worried because they have very few leads but when they realise that perhaps the murders have something to do with the disappearance of a young girl, 15 years earlier, the pieces slowly start to come together.
There are hints that young Francesca may be coming back, but she certainly isn’t the same person she once was. Daughter of storyteller, poet and dramatist Vittorio Visconti (Raul Gederlini) and Nina Visconti (Silvina Grippaldi), there was always something amiss about her relationship with her family but no one ever questioned it. Events leading up to her disappearance are shown to the audience in flashbacks, mainly at the start and then sporadically throughout as the officers get closer to solving the case.
The pacing of Francesca is beautiful – the characters and the audience have revelations at the same time and this makes the audience complicit in the action. They are working alongside Moretti and Succo in figuring out what happened to the young girl and why someone is clearing the streets of impure souls today.
Tense, atmospheric and one of a kind, Francesca is one of the best horror films in years as it pays homage to some of the greats, whilst also cementing Onetti as a talent to watch out for.