Young British director Gerald McMorrow’s debut feature certainly does not lack ambition, with an intricate plot that mixes a fantasy world with the multi-stranded reality of modern London. Franklyn opens as Preest, a mysterious masked vigilante, is searching for his nemesis amongst the seedy bars and dark, neo-Gothic streets of a sprawling cyber-metropolis called ‘Meanwhile City’, which is run by an í¼ber-religious/totalitarian state. These ‘future’ fantasy sequences are inserted into a realistic story involving three present-day characters; Esser, who is looking for his missing son amongst the homeless of London; Milo, a heartbroken, idealistic young man who is searching for his one true love, and Emilia, a nihilistic artist whose masochistic and extreme ‘art installations’ involve multiple, failed suicide attempts.
These two parallel strands/universes are meant to mirror and affect each other in a variety of ways, but it is only in the last quarter of the film, and with the final twist that concludes the story, that we begin to ascertain what has actually been going on. This is a major problem with Franklyn: it is too fashionably, willfully obscure throughout most of its running time and it flaunts its over-stylised Gothic renderings – in the future sequences – too obviously; these reminded me of other, slightly pretentious and flawed cyber-noirs like Brazil and Dark City. Franklyn is undeniably original, thanks to an experimental narrative that (albeit unsuccessfully) blends four separate plots and characters together, the most powerful and affecting of which involves the luminescent but neurotic Emilia (Eva Green) and her bizarre suicide rituals. The other characters just don’t pass muster though, and you never feel any empathy for what are, essentially, cyphers for the writer-director’s cod-philosophical musings.
The fantasy scenes appear to be a slightly camp pastiche of film noir, with a grizzled, over-emphatic voice-over spoken by Preest, immediately recalling the Chandler-esque private investigators of the 40s and 50s (or indeed the inferior, ‘studio-cut’ version of Blade Runner). It is not made clear – until the very end – that this self-consciously narrated segment is meant to be clichéd, ironic and flimsy – and because of this, we don’t take the realistic, present-day sections of the film seriously; the ‘Preest’ sequences don’t add resonance to the other integrated plot-strands, they just bleed incredulity into them. It would have helped the overall suspension of disbelief if this conceit had been more clearly signified earlier on in the film.
Perhaps Franklyn deserves – and needs – to be seen more than once, to glean something deeper from its many facets. At least, it tries to be inventive and to do something different, fusing fantasy elements with current social concerns such as schizophrenia, depression, suicide, post-traumatic stress, homelessness and the striving for love. Rarely do British films attempt to mix genres in this way, and for this Franklyn should be applauded, even if ultimately, it just tries to hard. Here’s to hoping that this promising writer-director will mature and fine-tune his vision for his next venture.