Horror has long been obsessed with Grand Guignol, but the fascination with the infamous French theatrical experience has yet to be the setting for a straight genre movie. Step up, The Most Assassinated Woman in the World, or La femme la plus assassinée du monde, a Belgian Netflix co-production that focuses on the most famous actress in the tradition.

A stylish, strong opening orientates us in the world of Grand Guignol, where a heady voice-over from the incomparable Paula Maxa explains how many times she’s been killed onstage. In the crowd, an elderly man is busy with a prostitute, instructing her that he wishes to climax right when Paula dies onstage.

It soon becomes clear that Paula is being targeted offstage as well as on, with a plucky reporter on the case to figure out what’s happening/write a puff piece about the theatre itself and its weirdo staff, which includes a director who looks like The Penguin and an FX guy who bears more than a passing resemblance to Guillermo Del Toro.

The story is based on that of a real-life actress who worked at the theater for many of its most controversial years. Here, she’s so desired that a fan actually cuts off a lock of her hair while Paula is enjoying a night out at the cinema. However, underneath the surface, the great actress yearns to break free and run off to Hollywood to become a serious performer.

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The Most Assassinated Woman in the World is a strange little film. The debut feature from documentary filmmaker Franck Ribière is kind of all over the place, establishing its killer via a shot of him looking a bit like Jack the Ripper only to dismiss him for much of the rest of the movie. The big reveal comes without his M.O. even being established.

Ribière and his three(!) fellow credited screenwriters make a real meal out of telling Paula’s admittedly great story, which is a real shame because French actress Anna Mouglalis does a terrific job in the lead role. Her deep voice and Gothic looks are perfectly suited to capturing Paula’s push-pull between the job she knows and loves, but has grown tired of, and opportunities elsewhere that require a terrifying leap of faith.

Anna Mouglalis in the most assassinated woman in the world

It’s clear Paula can’t trust anybody in her life, but even so the motivations behind the great scheme at the heart of the film make little to no sense. The whole thing is a bit clunky and disjointed, possibly to ape the traditions of the Grand Guignol itself, but the story is difficult to follow or comprehend as a result. This is an interesting woman, but she doesn’t seem it here.

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Considering the grand tradition of shocking horror theater has been dead for about three decades at this stage, it’s nice to revisit the world, even if only for a couple hours (on that note, the film is also far too long). The London Dungeons are probably the closest modern equivalent. The Most Assassinated Woman In The World isn’t as fun as visiting those, but it’s entertaining and definitely worth a look on Netflix among the other dross.

WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Franck Ribière
Writer(s): Franck Ribière, James Charkow, Vérane Frédiani, David Murdoch
Stars: Anna Mouglalis, Niels Schneider, André Wilms, Michel Fau
Year: 2018
Release date: TBC (Netflix)
Studio/ Production Co: Sinner Films
Language: French
Length: 102 minutes
Sub-Genre: Mystery