I remember seeing muted trailers for this film as I scrolled through Facebook. I was immediately pulled in because the whole film is black and white, and I was taken aback by the stunning pieces of filmography flashing on the tiny screen of my smartphone. How bad can this be? Well, not bad at all. This is a film that follows the story of a young girl, Francisca, from the death of her mother, adolescence, adulthood, the death of her father, and everything in between. This film carries the audience through shocking trauma after trauma, told in three parts: Mother, Father, and Family. So, let’s talk.
This film is the 2016 directorial debut of Nicolas Pesce. This is the kind of film where I sat down to watch it, and I had no idea what to expect. The trailer answers no questions, and instead just leaves you in a state of confusion, clouded with questions only the film can rightfully answer.
From the beginning I know that the protagonist, Francisca, is a fucked up little child. Her mother is a surgeon, and her father is kind of just there, ya know? They live on a farm with livestock, and her mother teaches her how to remove the eyes of cows, because she needs to know that important life skill. Anyway, the first red flag is raised when Fran tries to pet or feed some of the cows, but they are afraid of her. Can’t animals just smell the insanity of people, even if they are just a child? A pivotal moment that gives us a glimpse of Fran’s mental state is when she purposefully cuts her finger on a thorn. She just sucks the blood from it after, but, I mean, she’s like six.
Unfortunately for our cute young protag, she is on the cliff of major events that will just fuck her up even more. The first being Charlie, a door-to-door salesman. Obviously, nothing good can come from a salesman who goes out of his way to find the farm Fran lives on. She’s pretty deep in the woods, so why bother unless you have nefarious intentions? Charlie is very obviously crazy, and the man who portrays him is probably the very best choice. He just looks absolutely insane. He wants to use the bathroom, but instead, sells death to the mother, pulling a gun on her and taking her to the bathroom, only to beat her to death in the bathtub with a hammer while Fran quietly sits in the kitchen and waits for her father to come home from…wherever he is all day.
The utter lack of emotion when the father comes home to see his mutilated dead wife is unnerving. And then another one, instead of killing Charlie outright, he is kept in their ominous looking barn, calling out Fran’s name in the night until she permanently silences him, taking his vocal chords and removing his eyes. He is kept chained up in the barn, Fran caring for him in a deranged, animalistic way until she comes of age.
We see her as an adult, sleeping in bed with the corpse of her dead father, bathing him, sitting him in a rocking chair, dancing for him. Later, when she brings home a girl to kill and eat, do we find out that she may have killed him. Again, we get that animalistic theme coming back in her behavior. She continues to care for her dead father, like some animals do when they are emotionally traumatized, still bringing food to the dead adult. She goes to the bar to find a girl to eat, so she is hunting. She also keeps Charlie, and disables him enough that he relies on her for his own survival, and she simply uses him for sex and companionship until he tries to escape. Then he is killed and kept for food.
This theme continues when Fran steals a baby from a woman, maybe someone she considers weak. Once again, she is disabled and kept in the barn as Fran raises her child as her own, teaching him Portuguese as well as English. Towards the end, when the child lets the woman escape (WHY WASN’T THERE A LOCK ON THE BARN, FRAN?) and the cops come for Fran, I honestly thought she’d kill the child and flee for her own survival. But the child’s survival came before her own, giving her character a glimmer of her humanity and empathy before she is killed by the cops.
One other theme to mention that is present throughout is insanity. Of course, that can be said for most horror films, but this kind of insanity that is a backbone of Fran’s character results in her utter lack of fear and moral decision making. First is her lack of mourning for her mother, although that is followed up later when she digs up her mothers remains to tell her she is lonely and stumbles upon a child for the taking. Later is her over the top mourning for her death father, bathing with his body, sleeping with it, asking him why he had to leave her – until we find out she might have actually killed him, making her sense of reality flawed, or making Fran the most unreliable of unreliable narrators. Her love of killing overtakes her life, keeping her inside her parent’s old house as a hermit, only going out when she needs to kill. Then when she does, her victims aren’t wasted, and they become her primary diet. Finally, the way she treats the mother in the barn is extremely different from how she treats Charlie. He is being cared for, while the mother is treated like…cattle, for lack of a better word.
This film is intimate with there being less characters on screen to keep track of. However, those who were chosen for these roles do a stellar job at portraying psychos. Charlie, to start, is a compelling psychopath who steals the attention of the audience. Each line he delivers is a buildup of anticipation, all the way to the moment Fran asks him why he chose her home, and her mother, to which he simply replies, “You let me in.” Fran’s mom should have known, I mean, look at his fucking crazy hair…
The father is something else entirely. He is mysterious and unreadable, yet also empty of emotions when we see him on screen. There is the heartwarming moment when Fran dances with him, a bizarre moment that happens after the mother is brutally murdered, yet sweet, Fran standing on her father’s feet, dancing to sad but beautiful music. The father is dancing yes, but simply going through the motions, and it’s hard to me to feel anything apart from strange after watching that scene. The father also watches the same movie on the TV over and over again, another little red flag showing that insanity might run in the family.
Adult Fran is incredible, an absolutely incredible actress. This role of normalized madness is not an easy one. Her face is so expressionless, her eyes are wide but blank. As stated above, all of her decisions are led by her insanity, but also her survival. When the girl she takes home threatens to leave, we see her become manic, her voice high and crazy, when you normally don’t hear it at all. Her having sex with Charlie is a weak point, it gives him a moment to sneak away, so she had to go and kill him. Poor dude.
Now for my favorite part of the film. The use of black and white filming is absolutely stunning. It gives it a timeless eerie feel, and it is shot vividly, with sharp imagery and even sharper focus on ALL shots. The use of black and white is what pulled me into this film, interesting from the first time I saw the promo trailer. I adore the way it’s told in chapters as well. The only real gore we see in the film is when Fran’s mom is removing the eyes of the cow head in the kitchen in the beginning. Most of the other gore is hinted at, and not seen “full frontal.” This film does a good job at not showing the gore, though, something I would usually frown upon (it takes a lot of gore to satisfy me). The best use of this is the implied notion that Fran will kill the girl she brought home from the bar, then the cutscene with the floor soaked in blood. Incredibly satisfying, nonetheless.
Although there is not much gore seen, the makeup in the film is fantastic. The first time you see Charlie’s face, for example, after his eyes are removed. He just looks like a fucking bloody mess. Also, the remains o the father rotting away in the house is a great nod to the makeup department.
My favorite shots of the whole movie are the long shots. This movie uses the black and white to it’s advantage regarding cinematography. First, being when young Fran sits in front of the barn at night sitting in the pool of light that is made by the lamp. It’s freaky, making the barn look like an ominous building in full dark, and her sitting form is so small in comparison.
Finally, my favorite shot is that of Fran coming out of the trees after dawn, while she is out all night crying with the remains of her mother. It’s all trees until you see the tiny light colored speck that is Fran emerging from the unknown.
Stunning all around.
I’d say this film is realistic in the way events happen. Anyone can be targeted by an insane murderer if they let them in their homes. Anyone can be killed by anyone, and anyone can live alone, under the radar, eat people, steal babies, keep people in their barn. Why not? There have been worse things happen, real things. The truth will always be way more fucked up than any fictional movie can convey.
I suppose the moral of this story is always lock up your secrets and don’t let in crazy-looking door to door salesmen.
From the very first watch, Aww Yeah this fucked me up. I’ll recommend this one every time.
*Sorry, once again, no clever gif*