Gonzalez takes a softcore approach to his porn and his horror, and the result is stimulating visually but flat narratively.
Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart is a queer parody of a sexual thriller, but unfortunately one that doesn’t manage to be funny, sexy or particularly thrilling. Gonzalez sets his film in 1979 and appears to have been inspired by both the pornographic and horror cinema of the ’70s. But he takes a softcore approach to his porn and his horror, and the result is stimulating visually but flat narratively.
Knife + Heart follows alcoholic gay porn director Anne (Vanessa Paradis), who, in an an effort to win back the affection of her editor and former lover Loïs (Kate Moran), embarks on her most ambitious project yet. She heads to construction sites and bars in search of talent for her film, but her plans hit a snag when a haunting, masked figure starts murdering her actors with a knife concealed inside a dildo.
The murder scenes, despite featuring gay sex and knives, aren’t particularly hot or scary. The murderer is terrifying to look at, and Gonzalez was obviously inspired by Italian giallo horror while thinking him up. But Gonzalez starts the murder music just a bit too early and keeps the encounters strangely chaste despite the fact that they feature porn stars engaging in sex. The murder weapon is clever, perhaps because it is such a cheekily obvious metaphor, but it could have been used for greater cinematic effect. Just as the music comes too early, so does the death. In porn and horror (and giallo in particular), so much of the fun comes from the anticipation.
There’s a nonsensical murder investigation thrown in, as well as arson, doppelgängers and drug binges. But the only real fun comes from the scenes in which Anne is directing her porn films. At the beginning of Knife + Heart, Anne is directing a more straightforward film titled Anal Fury, which is in itself rather clever as one of Knife + Heart‘s actors, Félix Maritaud, actually performed in several French adult films under the stage name Anal Fury (don’t ask me how I know this). Then, once she becomes even more determined to win back Loïs, she begins work on Homocidal, which features her sidekick Archibald (Nicolas Maury getting bonked while doing everything from detective work to Renaissance posing.
Anne sets out to solve the murders herself, but this leads into the greatest example of one of Knife + Heart‘s most egregious mistakes. In laying a trap for the killer, she puts even more of her actors in harm’s way. Knife + Heart, despite featuring primarily queer characters, is wantonly dismissive of the value of queer lives. The murder victims are barely mourned, and when they are even mentioned after death, there is the subtext that their murders should have been expected because they were out in search of sex or drugs.
The cinematography (by Simon Beaufils) and music (by M83) are intoxicating, casting a DePalma-esque sheen on the proceedings while also recalling classic giallo films. One intriguing element of the film’s presentation is that the pornography scenes actually look more like real life than the wildly-lit, windswept world where the primary narrative unfolds. If the film could have carried this beautiful and surreal approach into its narrative, it really could have been something special.