‘She Is Conann’ Review: Queen of the Barbarians

“She Is Conann,” Bertrand Mandico’s gonzo-feminist riff on “Conan the Barbarian,” plays like an opera from hell. In the first few minutes, Rainer (Elina Löwensohn) — a humanoid hound who could be related to the Crypt Keeper — terrorizes an old woman wrapped in foil. The creature, who wears a boxy leather jacket and aviator sunglasses, struts around and monologues in a snakelike whisper, and then bites off a chunk of the woman’s flesh.

Rainer leads the hapless dame into a sparkling cavern, where the queen of the barbarians herself, Conann, is perched on a high tower, clutching a human heart that looks more like a Christmas tree ornament.

“She Is Conann” is a particularly nasty kind of sci-fi horror movie, sprinkled with a bit of glam-rock fairy dust. It unfolds almost entirely in a foggy underworld that resembles an elaborate haunted house. As opposed to computer-generated imagery, Mandico relies on built sets and practical effects, which give the film a stagey feel. Its unabashedly excessive scenes of violence also offer a gross-out realism.

With Rainer as our guide, the plot loosely revolves around Conann’s ascension to power through the ages. First, she’s an innocent white teenager (Claire Duburcq) who witnesses a band of sadistic warriors chop her mother in half; then, she’s an androgynous 20-something (Christa Théret) who looks like the offspring of David Bowie. In the lengthiest act, she’s a Black woman with a fierce buzz cut and metallic threads (Sandra Parfait) living in a metropolis with her girlfriend.

It’s more of a fever dream than an actual story, offering a queer counternarrative to the macho vision of the legendary warrior that is as hypnotic as it is gnarly.

She Is Conann
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.

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