Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Frightfest ’17: Fashionista

Eric wants to be the vintage clothing king of Texas. Unfortunately, his wife April has some Texas-sized jealousy and self-esteem issues. Clothes are how she self-medicates. When she falls under the spell of someone who feeds and exploits her addiction, it probably leads to some extreme behavior, but it is hard to tell what is real and what is delusion in Simon Rumley’s Fashionista (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Frightfest in the UK.

Initially, Austin hipsters April and Eric seem to enjoy living together amid the mountains of clothes he calls “stock” and she considers her wardrobe. However, when he starts spending more time in Dallas preparing their second store, she inevitably suspects he is cheating. There might be something to her fears, but her paranoid, passive aggressive behavior ironically pushes him further into infidelity. Seething from his betrayal, April allows the slimy but very rich Randall to pick her up. He has a bit of a fetish when it comes to women’s clothing, but strictly for his partner to wear. Randall starts dressing April in high-end couture, but he clearly has a nefarious agenda.

We get hints of his evil machinations in nearly subliminal flashforward snippets. At least we assume they are flashforwards. Rumley so thoroughly smashes narrative linearity, it is dashed difficult for viewers to piece it back together on the fly. Frankly, we always have good reason to doubt the legitimacy of everything we are watching supposedly transpire. That makes Fashionista rather exhausting, but Rumley and editor Tom Sainty cut-and-paste it together with such a sure hand, it is always compelling to watch.

In a tour de force performance, Amanda Fuller is terrifying, infuriating, and stripped bare to the point of utter vulnerability. Eric Balfour (recognizable to many for surviving pretty late into the original 24 as Milo Pressman) is spectacularly sinister as the manipulative Randall. Ethan Embry, who has become a go-to horror guy in films like The Devil’s Candy, Late Phases, and Cheap Thrills, helps tether the film to something we can consider reality, but it is hard to understand why he doesn’t shun April like the plague.

Fashionista is definitely an Austin kind of Texas film and Rumley is British, so there you go. It would be more akin to a sexually charged psycho-drama like Eyes Wide Shut, if it were not for provocative and bloody twists that pile up during the third act. It is not for all tastes, but those who enjoy the avant-garde when it gets lurid will flip for what Rumley pulls off. Recommended accordingly, Fashionista screens this Friday (8/25), as part of Frightfest UK.