Breanna Lucci says Paolo Strippoli’s Flowing is psychologically immersive with complex family dynamics, thrilling performances, and thoughtful cinematography.
Flowing, an Italian horror drama set in modern-day Rome, is Paolo Strippoli’s second feature-length film. It was co-written with Jacopo Del Giudice and Gustavo Hernández. Starring Fabrizio Rongione, Francesco Gheghi, and Aurora Menenti, Flowing captures a world where no one can hide from their darkest desires–especially in the face of trauma. It’s a psychologically immersive film filled with complex family dynamics, fantastic performances by the lead actors, and thoughtful cinematography.
After a tragic car accident that kills Cristina (Cristiana Dell’Anna), a cherished mother and wife, the Morel family is left in shambles. Thomas (Rongione), now a single father of two, finds himself struggling to care for his angry teenage son, Enrico (Gheghi), and young daughter Barbara (Menenti), who was paralyzed in the crash. As tensions rise between Thomas and Enrico, a mysteriously noxious mist causing people to act on their darkest desires begins seeping out of the sewers across Rome. The Morel family is forced to confront long-kept traumas before it’s too late.
Thomas and Enrico’s anger is what fuels Flowing. Their rage bleeds through passive aggressive-moments and harsh, rageful answers to simple questions. This isn’t unique to Strippoli’s narrative. Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) tackled similar tensions and family dynamics. When Annie’s youngest child Charlie dies in a gruesome accident, her death becomes a point of contention between Annie and her son, Peter. Tragedy sparking family tensions can also be found in Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone (2021). Finney and Gwen’s mother’s death furthered the gap between them and their father, which only worsens when Finney goes missing. In so many words, this trope, while popular within the horror genre, gets a fresh spin in Flowing. The mist that seeps from the sewers doesn’t create problems that weren’t already there, it merely brings them to the surface. Perhaps the cautionary message among all these stories is that grief causes deep and unrelenting divides when left unaddressed.
Perhaps the cautionary message among all these stories is that grief causes deep and unrelenting divides when left unaddressed.
The lead performances by Rongione and Gheghi are notable, as they create complicated characters that shine both individually and together. Through tired eyes and frustrated movements, Rongione portrays an exhausted father. In his scenes alone, he’s often staring ahead with a clenched jaw and tight facial features, translating well into his moments of dialogue with Gheghi, where he delivers lines with a short, impatient tone. Interestingly, when conversing with Barbara, Rongione completely shifts to a soft and kind tone. As the film progresses, his approach to Barbara is what most reveals his unraveling. This dichotomy makes Thomas a truly multi-dimensional and complicated character, particularly in the father-figure role.
Gheghi is similarly impressive. He portrays Enrico through chaotic bodily movements and facial expressions and craftily maintains Enrico’s carelessness through dead eyes. While wandering through a store, Enrico sees a mannequin he wants to steal. Without words, Gheghi shows Enrico’s increasingly unhinged behavior by loudly shushing the mannequin and then recklessly and hurriedly rushing out of the store with it in hand. His silent emotions ring loudly through the film as he soon attaches an explosive to the mannequin and watches it shatter with his phone recording in hand and a deadpan expression on his face. “And now,” he says to the camera, “Go fuck yourselves.” This makes his character complex—he’s hurting and unhinged, and it’s getting worse by the second.
Cristiano Di Nicola‘s cinematography and Raf Keunen’s score take on a life of their own throughout the film. Nicola’s camera often looks down upon its subjects and pans upward, as if it is an overarching force observing the characters. It often feels like the mist is watching: when Enrico’s friend, Gianluca (Leon de la Vallee), falls victim to a mist-infected security guard, the camera feels like a spectator, silently judging from above. This is where Keunen’s musical choices shine. While the camera slowly works its way up the gory mess of blood and bodies as Enrico absorbs the horror in front of him, there is a noticeable lack of sound. The only thing that rings through is Enrico’s footsteps, which work as a wonderful way to deliver the gut-wrenching truth of his world. Trauma is isolating and more painful than we’d care to admit.
Flowing tells a captivating tale of grief, loss, and dark desires. Every aspect of the film blends perfectly to propel the narrative forward, and the dirty mist-infected people are a great bonus. Strippoli’s vision of horror is enough to scare me off visiting Rome. I’m not sure what my darkest desires are, but I know I don’t want to face them anytime soon.
Flowing had its East Coast premiere at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on October 20th, 2022.