US | 2016 | Directed by Simon Rumley
Logline: A woman, addicted to op-shop clothing, and in a troubled marriage, begins seeing a wealthy, enigmatic man who leads her further astray.
Rumley is an English maverick who directs movies on the fringe, both figuratively and literally. He toys with fractured identities, dangerous relationships, lurid avenues, and isn’t afraid to delve into sordid depths in order to uncover hard truths. He peels away social mores and exposes the wounds of our fragile inner beasts. With Fashionista he plays with addiction and delusion, painting a cracked reflection of one woman’s fight for control, over her self, and over her surrounding heaven/hell.
April (Amanda Fuller) leaves with her husband Eric (Ethan Embry) in the back of their large second-hand clothing store, Eric’s Emporium, in Austin, the wilderness heart of Texas. This is is Eric’s livelihood and it is April’s lifeblood. Whilst Eric is having an affair with one of the staff, Theresa (Jemma Evans) April spends her time sniffing and fondling the fabrics and furs, simultaneously feeding her own insecurities. She accuses another staffie, Sherry (Alexandria DeBerry) of screwing her husband, but she’s barking up the wrong tree.
Amanda catches Eric and Therese in bed, and the rockets of rage explode. Eric cowers, Therese scampers, and April seeks solace deep in the open wardrobes. Outside of the Emporium she meets Randall (Eric Balfour) a sleek, elegant, and handsome man with a cruel streak. April is drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He entices her, and lures her into a very dark and twisted swingers game. April’s clutch on reality is beginning to slip…
Shot in a grainy, low-fi look, that sways between washed out and saturated, the cinematography gives the movie’s vibe a distinctly early 80s feel, as does the brooding, mostly electronic score. Texas exudes the desolation usually associated with the lost City of Angels. Rumley states at movie’s end that Fashionista is inspired by the films of Nic Roeg, and indeed, the manipulation of character, the fascination with femininity vs. masculinity, the hallucinatory, surrealist touches that Roeg applied to movies like Performance, Don’t Look Now, and Bad Timing, and in particular, the obsessive-compulsive natures of the central characters echo those movies tremendously.
It’s a slow-burn descent into madness, April losing grip on immediate world, desperately seeking assurance, the mask of beauty hiding a deep-rooted desire for freedom, emancipation from prejudice and jealousy. Amanda Fuller, who was excellent in the lead role from Rumley’s Red, White and Blue (2010) is brilliant in the tortured titular role of this dark character study. Fantastic support from Balfour as a kind of nemesis, Embry as the pathetic spouse, and, also of note, Alex Essoe, who was magnificent in Starry Eyes (which also co-starred Fuller), in a mysterious role whom loiters during the movie’s opening scene, and who appears peripherally through the movie, but doesn’t reveal herself fully until movie’s closing scenes.
Fashionista is one of those disquieting drama-thrillers that smoulders away, threatening too fully ignite. It catches, and singes, and it’s those surface burns that always seem to linger the longest. It’s one of the most original screenplays I’ve seen in ages. Clothing obsessions and nightmares don’t always mix, but Rumley has fashioned (pardon the pun) a terrific low-budget piece that razzle-dazzles in a way those big budget affairs could never hope to pin. Another favourite for the year.