English movie, made by A24. London, sometime in the ’80s. Shoppers are highly enthused about the newly opened Dentley and Soper’s Trusted Department Store. The place is characterized both by reasonable prices and odd-speaking, Victorian-looking personnel. The majority of the movie concerns Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a single mum looking for love (though more than halfway through, it abruptly switches storylines to focus on Reg the washing machine repairman, played by Leo Bill). She buys a dress from the shop, which turns out to be…evil? The movie is quite cryptic about what’s up with the garment that gives it both the motive and the ability to kill, but anyone who comes into contact with it suffers the consequences.
I can’t remember what caused me to put this on my watchlist, but it was not at all what I expected. The cover is so dark and dramatic (see below), I was incredulous that the film is classified as a horror comedy. But it is utterly, comically bizarre. Human interactions are stunted and awkward or just downright weird among most of the characters. For example Sheila’s bosses Stash (Julian Barratt) and Clive (Steve Oram), who continually call her into meetings for infractions like not having a meaningful handshake or waving at the boss’s mistress. Then, my favorite, Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) from Dentley and Soper’s. Her conversations with customers go like this: “Your changing room is waiting for you and your dress to coalesce into a simple union of wonder” and “Your shopping will conclude now. Pay us for your items and return to your house.” But the scenes without dialogue are even stranger, like Miss Luckmoore washing a menstruating mannequin while coworker Mr. Lundy (Richard Bremmer) watches and tosses off.
Which isn’t to say the entire movie is a laugh riot. There’s a prevalent influence of ’70s and ’80s horror, with all the freeze frames and synth pop. The vivid use of color–especially red–brings to mind Suspiria in particular. The comitragic events are totally unpredictable and completely mysterious, reminiscent of David Lynch productions. The ending is deeply disturbing and worth the wait.
If I were to venture a guess about what the movie is about on a deeper level, I’d say…consumerism slash obsession with fashion? There is a fair amount of screentime devoted to folks queuing up to get in, with the shopkeeps eerily beckoning them inside. A fistfight breaks out between two ladies over who’s next in line, and it sweeps over the entire store in moments. And/or…objectification slash commodification of women? We see a lot of mannequins and clothing models. Sheila’s son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) has a girlfriend, Gwen (Gwendoline Christie), who models for him, but it looks like all he draws are representations of her fancy parts, which he occasionally uses as masturbation aids. Sheila is treated poorly by one of her dates, who deigns to squeeze her in between his many other outings and pouts that she doesn’t look like her picture. Hands are a constant image system throughout, but I have no idea what to make of that.
Overall, I came away glad I had watched it, and I look back at it fondly. It took me a while to get into it; again, I wasn’t expecting so much humor. Give it a look if you’re in the mood to forget your surroundings for a while and bask in some retro weirdness.