There is a movie within the movie Knife + Heart and it boasts the slightly euphemistic title of Homocidal (although I prefer the working title: Anal Fury). It is, in fact, being filmed as we watch, along with a number of other similarly lewd movies. Homocidal is the latest production of Far West Films, a fictional queer softcore porn studio that acts as the focus of Knife + Heart, a delightfully icky horror movie seeped in beautiful Giallo homage that is the second feature of Niçoise polymath Yann Gonzalez (who you might know as one half of M83).
Vanessa Paradis plays Anne, the indomitable producer, director, and screenwriter of the aforementioned independent movie studio. She is a filmmaker through and through, and thus it is not unusual for Anne to take events she sees or experiences in real life and use them in her porn movies, regardless of how delicate they may be. She has a crush on her editor and likes to discover new talent by chatting up young men at building sites, regardless of their sexuality. Do I have your attention yet? If not, then get this: there’s a killer that seems to be picking off Anne’s crew one by one using a weapon best described as part flick knife, part dildo.
It sort of makes a lot of sense for Gonzalez to be directing something like Knife + Heart. His work as a musician with M83 did, after all, help take that niche brand of analogue synth music out from the underground and back into the mainstream. That particular genre certainly has its deities, and few are as idolized as the artists who helped to create the mood of Giallo horror — most notably Dario Argento’s long-serving collaborators, Goblin. Gonzalez litters his entire film and his original score with grand winks to both Argento and Goblin, as well as, in a different way, the more ethereal horrors of work such as Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast.
It’s in these woodland scenes, however, that Knife + Heart loses a lot of its steam. Gonzales’ script, which has been perfectly taut up until now, begins meandering through a lot of seemingly redundant visual symbolism. Someone says something or other about blind crows and then, inexplicably, there’s a man with a claw for a hand who we’ll never see again. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for freaky ambiguity, but in this instance it all comes across as a little too contrived to be tonally coherent.
Our killer’s genesis is also revealed in this second act as we learn, without giving too much away, that the person (whose gender we shant divulge) was badly disfigured at a young age. This explains why they’ve been going around in a rather horrifying mask; think DiCaprio in that period film where he had to wear the mask for some reason.
That all said, it’s best to not get too caught up in Knife + Heart’s plot. Indeed, it is a film that will entice the viewer’s senses, if not necessarily their brain activity. Pleasing lengths have been gone to recreate the incomparable feel of Giallo horror, with all its lush color, production design and costumes as well as that playful sincerity. What can one say? If you like that kind of thing, you might also like this.
Knife + Heart premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and opens on March 15. Find more of our festival coverage here.