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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Peter Strickland
prd Andy Starke
with Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohamed, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Gwendoline Christie, Jaygann Ayeh, Barry Adamson, Richard Bremmer, Terry Bird, Sidse Babett Knudsen
release US Sep.18 ff,
18/UK BBC 1h58
TORONTO FILM FEST
Taking his usual heavily stylised approach, Peter Strickland unspools an deliriously bonkers story about a killer dress. It's lurid and strange, sometimes hard to get a grip on, but also impossible to look away from. The film is set in a timeless period that echoes the 1970s, drenched in red and packed with both suggestive nastiness and outright grisliness. So it's a lot of fun to watch.
Getting ready for a blind date, bank teller Sheila (Jean-Baptiste) buys a red dress recommended for her by department store clerk Miss Luckmoore (Mohamed). Her dinner doesn't go well, and she comes home to her rude son (Ayeh) and his even ruder girlfriend (Christie). The next sign of trouble is a nasty rash, and eventually Sheila tries to return the dress, discovering that it has a mysteriously violent history. It also quite possibly has a mind of its own, as its next owners, engaged couple Babs and Reg (Squires and Bill), are about to discover.
Strickland deploys his trademark precision with imagery and sound, using colours and effects to play merrily with expectations, from the comforting dense textures of Sheila's home to the seemingly wall-less white glow of the department store. And then there are the over-attentive clerks, who perform sinister midnight rituals with their mannequins, watched by the store manager (Bremmer). The film has continual witty touches in the outrageously expressive sets, costumes and makeup. And the camerawork, editing and music are just as playful.
There are contrasting styles to the acting, with a naturalistic turn from Jean-Baptiste as an affection-starved woman facing life with a sense of humour. She's likeable and very easy to identify with as she tries to get to the bottom of things. A meeting with her ridiculously detail-oriented bosses (the deadpan Barratt and Oram) has an almost Monty Python sensibility. Later, Reg meets them too, and Bill's performance is also warmly sympathetic, as is Squires'. By contrast, Mohamed and the the shop staff are wonderfully heightened, as each actor adds hilariously nutty touches.
The film is a cross between 1970s giallo horror and camp 1950s monster movies. Strickland plays with lighting and mirrors, maintaining earthy touches even as the plot takes various insane turns. The film is structured as two separate stories about the dress, and it seems odd that the second half is less involving, almost dazed by comparison. Even so, it boldly expands on and deepens the themes of consumerism and fashion victimhood, and it's still utterly mesmerising.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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