A Belgian art movie, written and directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, which obsessively references Italian horror and thriller films: it’s a shame Dario Argento has recently squandered the title Giallo, since it would have done perfectly for this elegant, intricate, highly-wrought psycho-drama. The central character, Ana, is seen at three stages of her life – little girl, adolescent, adult (Biana Maria D’Amato, Marie Bos, Charlotte Eugene Guibeaud) – being disturbed in vignettes set at a rambling cliff top villa. As a child, in Bava-lit terror, she breaks a rosary free from the fingers of her dead, rotting grandfather as her mother has an affair and a veiled, ambiguous figure lurks. As a girl, she pouts and makes bored play with the locals – and gets a slap from mama (Cassandra Foret). As a grown-up, she returns to the villa and has erotic and sado-masochistic fantasies – black-gloved razor-killer – which end up with her on a morgue slab, perhaps in another fantasy, perhaps as a suicide. The narrative elements are extremely slight, but style is everything: indeed, it’s a confirmation by inversion of the priorities of gialli, which are usually insanely over-plotted but boil down to sensual, strange or stirring moments based on tiny sensations.
It has the widescreen look of a vintage Edwige Fenech vehicle, and draws inspiration not only from semi-canonical names like Bava and Argento, but also Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and others. It’s almost dialogue-free, but strong on repeated images: eyes, keys, keyholes, stairs, insects, blades, skin, teeth, hair, gloves, water, glass/ice, wallpaper, sunglasses. It has grue in the corpse-abuse and an extreme close-up razor-slashing of a male passerby – the straight razor between the teeth is especially cringeworthy – but, unlike many critics and fans, realises that there’s much more stalk than slash in the classical form and spends a lot of time getting so close to the protagonist as she walks through her world that a strange fascination is generated even when she’s doing something trivial like sitting on a hot car seat in a short dress or outstaring a football-playing younger boy. It makes its points, but also retains its mysteries.