Reviews

KNIFE+HEART: Murder and Camp in the World of Gay Porn

Cody reviews 2018's queer thriller, Knife+Heart.

Yann Gonzalez’s queer thriller delivers on scares, laughs and introspection.

Knife+Heart makes it clear early on that it is not a film for the faint of heart. Before the title card is even thrusted onto the screen, the audience is forced to watch a masked killer lure a young porn star to sleep with him at a gay club, and then stab him in the ass with a Macgyvered knife-dildo. The attack sets the tone for Yann Gonzalez’s queer thriller, one that gives it room to have fun with the ridiculousness of its camp while also examining the complexities of voyeurism, queer identity and the politics of space.

Set in the summer of 1979, Knife+Heart follows Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a low rate gay porn producer in Paris. After her relationship with her editor Lois (Kate Moran) has soured, Anne tries to win her back by making her greatest film yet. The only problem is that Karl (Bastien Waultier), one of Anne’s actors, was the one murdered by the masked killer.

Instead of mourning, Anne uses this tragedy to her advantage and makes it the plot of her next film. The film cuts from a real interrogation about Karl’s murder to an outrageous parody of the exact event, trading the detective taking notes for one that thrusts his hard cock on to a typewriter.

One of the most mesmerizing parts of Knife+Heart is how both the porn and the murders feed into one another. As the production continues, the cast continues to drop like flies in gruesome ways almost all starting with acts of gay sex or desire and Anne continues to use it as inspiration for the film, ironically titled Homo Cidal.

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Knife+Heart (2019) – source: Altered Innocence

The real horror of Knife+Heart is not just the murders, but how those murders disrupt the safety of queer people, and more specifically queer sex workers, from within their own spaces. In queer theory and culture, the idea of space is inherently political. As queer people, we are pushed to the underground the thumping music, the flashing lights, the cruising, the flagging and the sweaty expressions of public intimacy. This is the home that our ancestors have built for us one that allows us to feel safe to experiment and indulge in our sexualities without shame from the outside world.

This is exemplified in a scene where Lois dances into a crowded dance floor at a gay nightclub. The camera tracks her slowly as she approaches a woman to dance and make out with, underscored by loud techno music and drenched in strobing neon light. She’s visibly confident, she feels sexy and she doesn’t hold back her desires.

When it comes to queer intimacy and expression, we still live in a culture of shame. We repress our desires to be more palatable to others haunted by not acting upon them or punished for when we do. Instead, we take to the nightclubs and the leather and the colored handkerchiefs to be who we are freely and without shame.

So it hits that much harder when those spaces are infiltrated, when queer life is taken away in what was supposed to be a refuge. Even though there are police officers on the case, it’s not seen as a priority because the victims are queer sex workers. As the mystery surrounding the killer expertly unravels itself, that real-life horror is exponentially emphatic.

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Knife+Heart (2019) – source: Altered Innocence

In addition to being a queer thriller, Knife+Heart is also a voyeur’s dream. Because it’s a film about a film, there is always an additional layer of watching that’s added to the experience. Yes, the audience sees the film being made, but they also see what happens when the cameras are off which makes it feel that much more intimate.

In the beginning, Anne looks through a peephole in her office to watch Lois edit. Anne is watching Lois, but she’s also watching Lois watch the film. Throughout the film, the killer is always shown watching his victims from afar before he goes for the kill. It feels reminiscent of Laura Mulvey’s concept of “the gaze,” in which men are the ones who look while women are the objects that are looked at.

The gaze is fundamentally about ownership and consumption, especially in regards to patriarchal power dynamics in cinema. Even though the gaze is traditionally a heterosexual concept, it can be implemented on queer media texts like Knife+Heart.

There is an unequal power dynamic between the killer and his victims, and he looks at them in a way that fuels his desire to exert his power over them. He knows he has the power and wants to relish in it, to see them squirm. With Anne, she also wants to maintain power over Lois in some way to mend their broken relationship. She’s so fueled by jealousy and emotion that she makes Lois feel powerless, making their relationship unhealthy and unequal.

Knife+Heart is proof that a film can mix humor and heavy themes with ease. It equally delivers on scares and laughs, and it is impossible to look away as the mystery unfolds. Complemented with expert sound design and cinematography, the thematic range of Knife+Heart makes it a film unlike anything else out there.

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