I enjoy this sort of mid-budget, pet project SF made by auteur wannabes in the same way some people enjoy rubbish horror films. This sort of film fits into a category all of its own, where slightly mismatched ideas (usually one or three too many) are crammed into a stylish, dark world where the creator tries very hard to work out their intellectual kinks. You can practically smell the tortured creativity, along with whisky and salty tears. They are always too clever by half, and therefore not clever at all.
A large number of French SF/fantasy/horror fits into this category (Eden Log, The Martyrs, Malefique are good examples. Click on the links for reviews, where available). English language representatives include Split Second, Reign of Fire, Outpost and Perfect Creature). They all fail somewhere, but they are glorious, admirable failures nonetheless, like Franklyn. A review of the DVD release from Death Ray #20.
Film: TWO AND A HALF STARS
Extras: ONE STAR
Director: Gerald McMorrow
Writer: Gerald McMorrow
Starring: Sam Riley, Ryan Phillipe, Eva Green, Bernard Hill
Ambitious low-budget parallel universe fantasy that disappointingly misses its own target. A noble failure.
Technically Franklyn looks and sounds amazing, far better than its modest budget should allow, so much so it’s benchmark time for independent SF. But like so many one-man-band SF projects, the story is not so impressive. In Franklyn‘s case this is especially frustrating, because it almost manages to pull off something special, before collapsing into narrative irrelevancy at the climax.
It’s ambitious all right, a four-stranded narrative following masked vigilante Preest (Phillipe), grieving father Esser (Hill), messed-up artist Amelia (Green) and jilted bridegroom Milo (Riley). Part set in contemporary London, part in Meanwhile City, an alt-reality metropolis steeped in the steampunk vibe, (so fashionable these days it’s like all of Brit SF is on a yearning kick for empire) the individual tales snake around each other, teasing us as to how they’ll link up. The problem is, they don’t.
So keen is the film to preserve a sense of mystery that there are several scenes where the characters talk about things without actually talking about them. The dialogue thus becomes so arch it throws off all sense of engagement. This, in truth, is but one indicator of the film’s battle between sixth-form profundity and genuine artfulness (Preest’s noirish voiceover, for example, veers from the ridiculous to the poetic, while Amelia’s goth video art project is just too irritating for words). As much as McMorrow strives, he can’t hit his goal consistently, and school play dialogue is the result. Furthermore, though the film becomes increasingly intriguing as it progresses, there is little to keep interest levels up through the saggy first half.
Whether or not Meanwhile City is a paranoid delusion or not is a pillar of the film’s mystery, but the implications that are intended to lead you to either conclusion are hamfistedly proffered. What Franklyn really lacks is neatness; its vagueness swims against a tide of fate the story has unleashed. Franklyn‘s strength is its theme of story versus reality, but it should also have followed its metaphors of clockwork predeterminism to the end. What it needs is a denouement which could have been interpreted as either necessary for some metaphysical reason or simply blind coincidence. Ultimately, although the weight of events demand they do, there is no compelling reason for Milo and Amelia to meet. The pulp-trash nature of Meanwhile City leaves us with no other interpretation than chance. This invalidates much of the film’s cleverer aspects, and the climax leaves characters and audience in the rain, sodden and bewildered.
McMorrow is a man struggling with a foreign language. His film exhibits a good understanding of the vocabulary of SF, but little of its underlying grammar. Franklyn is unintelligible, and its less forgivable, self-conscious affectations are all the more obvious for it. A shame, because Franklyn is very nearly very good.
Extras: A rather self-congratulatory making of documentary.