The Most Assassinated Woman in the World is a film about a place, people, and art form stuck in transition. It’s also a modern Giallo homage (even though it’s set in Frace, not Italy) about life imitating art and the dastardly doings of a Jack the Ripper clone. The combination of the two isn’t always as smooth as it should be, and as is usually the case with homages such this the vitality of the Argento and Brava films being mimicked is sadly missing here. However, it’s an absolute joy to behold the production team’s painstaking recreation of the Grand Guignol and all the theater tricks the old showmen used to fool audiences.
It’s 1930s France and a young reporter is dispatched to cover the Grand Guignol theater. The local moral league considers the theater an affront to polite society and suspects foul play, that the theater’s special effects wizard is using actual dead bodies in the shows. The newspaper editor wants a profile of the type of people who actually attend such fare. Surely there are some killers in the bunch, he barks. The reporter, however, hones in on the theater’s grande dame, Paula Maxa, an actual historical figure played here by French actress Anna Mouglias, who speaks with a wonderfully gin-soaked, Shohreh Aghdashloo-style voice.
What draws a woman to a profession where she pretends to die in the most gruesome ways possible multiple times a night, earning her the “most assassinated woman in the world” nickname? Why hasn’t she moved away from the stage and over to movies? The owner of the theater dismisses cinema as an inferior fad, but does Paula agree?
The reporter and Paula, of course, fall in love, and various factions conspire to keep them apart and to keep Paula stuck where she is. To be honest, at one point the reporter is chased down the streets by men on motorcycles and I still don’t know for sure who they were. In that way, the Giallo spirit is upheld as plot and reason need not always be in agreement. It’s almost disappointing, then, when the final minutes of the film are spent explaining everything.
Mouglias is entrancing as Paula, but the continued flashbacks to her youth distract from the murder mystery to the point that for around of the film I assumed I was watching a historical character drama about a woman’s traumatic past and uncertain future. Once the reporter also gets his own tragic backstory and the storyline also branches off to the curious actions of Paula’s longtime special effects partner it all begins to feel a bit overstuffed and meandering.
The Bottom Line
A rich, lovely recreation of the Grand Guignol that falters when it leaves the stage and lacks some of the magic those Guillo works it seeks to honor. Still, a nice attempt on their part and worth a watch for anyone already interested in the days when French theaters performers beheaded each other, yanked out each other’s eyes, and tore hearts out on a nightly basis all to thunderous applause from a bloodthirsty crowd. Horror fans should know, however, that this is one of those horror-adjacent films that is about the business of people making something horrific but is never actually scary on its own.
The opening 20-minute long recreation of a Grand Guignol show is the clear highlight of the whole film.
If You Liked This, You Might Also Like…
- Dario Argento’s Opera
- The 2014 Canadian film The Editor about a mysterious figure killing off the crew of a giallo film
- The similarly plotted 2012 Toby Jones vehicle Berberian Sound Studio
- The Illusionist, whose recreations of old magician tricks reminds of this film’s recreation of the Grand Guignol
One Last Thing…
Don’t stop once the credits start. There is one post-credits scene.