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Film Review: Francesca @ FrightFest 2016

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★★

The spirit of giallo is very much alive and kicking in Luciano Onetti’s loving, if a little dry, homage to the classic Italian subgenre. 

For those unversed in the world of 70s horror subgenres - the realms of giallo largely relate to a collection of mystery thrillers, usually of Italian descent, and usually packed out with plenty of blood and a deafening score. 

So, as expected, Onetti’s attempted revival of such fun, in the form of the digitally-shot and edited Francesca, finds more of the same, following two troubled inspectors as they hunt down a mysterious red-gloved killer. 

And with everything from the loud theremins to the dodgy dubbing firmly in tact, it’s safe to say that Onetti has very much made a giallo thriller, albeit one that feels strangely out of place in the 21st century. 

The major issue here isn’t with anything technical: in fact, beat for beat, shot for shot, Onetti’s film is giallo through and through. As an exercise in accurately recreating the spirit and techniques of the aging subgenre, you can’t get more on point than Francesca. But without the grainy film stock or general 70s attitudes, sadly it all just feels a little pointless. 

The further and further into Francesca you get, the more the clearly digital world in which it was created becomes bothersome. It might be a very well-crafted one, but Onetti’s film can never escape the fact that it’s an imitation right from the ground up. 

Giallo was born in the 1960s, at a time where cinema was in a completely different place. Even as it gained more ground later on in the 70s, being championed by the likes of Argento and co., it again did so because of the thoughts and attitudes of the world around it. 

Today it exists as a product of an almost distant time, so to recreate it down to every last technique, although impressive in its own right, on a substance level, feels a tad empty. There’s nothing here that’s new, nothing here that really excites and nothing that particularly stands out from the original giallo crowd either. 

If Onetti had released Francesca at the height of the giallo boom he might’ve found some success, even just on a cult level, somewhere down the line. As it stands today, his work is to be quietly admired, but only in the same way that any historical re-enactment really can be. 

As a release for 2016, it’s a slow, frenzied and occasionally creepy thriller with little more behind it. 

A must for the tiny pocket of giallo completionists out there, but for everyone else, including the regular horror crowd, it might be a bit of a snoozer. 

Francesca was screened as part of HorrorChannel FrightFest 2016. More info on the festival and its films can be found here.

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