16th Jul2018

EIFF 2018: ‘The Most Assassinated Woman in the World’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Anna Mougalis, Niels Schneider, Eric Godon, Andre Wilms, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Christian Crahay, Constance Dolle, Michel Fau, Sissi Duparc | Written by Franck Ribiere, Verane Frediani, David Murdoch | Directed by Franck Ribiere


Directed by Franck Ribiere (producer for Alex de la Iglesia), The Most Assassinated Woman in the World is a French period horror that takes place against the backdrop of France’s Grand Guignol theatre, a real-life institution (lasting from 1897 until 1962) that specialised in graphic and naturalistic horror shows. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t quite do justice to the setting.

Anna Mougalis (Romanazo Criminale) plays Paula Maxa, the iconic real-life actor who was the most famous of the Grand Guignol’s leading ladies, who, as the title indicates, was graphically murdered on stage several times a day. After her latest performance of ‘Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous’ (where she plays an inmate in a brutal asylum), Paula meets Jean (Niels Schneider), a journalist who suspects the theatre is linked to a string of Jack the Ripper-esque murders in Montmartre. The pair fall in love and Jean dedicates himself to finding the killer and protecting Paula. Meanwhile, Paula is increasingly haunted by dark memories from her past. Might she somehow be connected to the killings?

Ribiere does a terrific job of creating a suitably creepy period atmosphere, perfectly capturing the backstage milieu of the Grand Guignol (all sweat, sawdust and fake blood) as well as the shadowy streets of the Pigalle district. In addition, the film doesn’t skimp on the gore, both on and off-stage, resulting in what feels like a pleasing homage to Hammer horror movies.

Dressed in a selection of fabulous hats, Mougalis is stylish and mysterious as Paula, and Ribiere gives her a show-stopping entrance (so good that it’s basically the entire trailer for the film), in which she recants all the ways she’s been murdered on stage (“beaten, martyred, sliced to bits, vaporised”, etc). However, she’s poorly matched by Schneider and their romance is extremely dull to watch as a result. Similarly, although Paula’s air of mystery is initially intriguing, there’s a persistent coldness to her performance that keeps the audience at arm’s length and prevents emotional investment in the character.

On top of that, the murder mystery is at best dull and at worst actively confusing, none of which is helped by a string of nonsensical last-minute twists. Worse still, there’s an air of smugness that creeps in as the final act draws to a close, with the film seemingly pleased with itself for fooling the audience, when in fact, it’s just alienated and confused them.

The frustrating thing is that there’s clearly a much more entertaining film in here that’s struggling to get out – if the relationship between Paula and Jean had had a bit more spark to it, and the colourful characters backstage had been fleshed out a little better, this could have been a fun murder mystery with a dash of gothic horror. Instead, it eventually becomes something of a slog, though not without the occasional good moment, such as Jean and Paula having a film vs theatre discussion after he takes her to see Doctor X. At least the score – by Keren Ann – livens things up a bit.

Note: The Most Assassinated Woman in the World is a French Netflix production – it doesn’t yet have a UK Netflix release date, but watch this space!


Comments are closed.