Bob's Cinema Diary: 12/6 -- In Fabric, Little Joe and Knives and Skin
I guess it's just one of those weeks. Three movies -- definitely on the fringe -- all involve weirdness of some sort or another. If you saw all three movies, you'd witness, among other things, a high-school girl who sells worn women's underwear to her school's principal, a female mannequin that's masturbated by a vampiric looking woman who may be a witch and a plant that emits pollen that subtly alters personalities and very likely will conquer the world. And you thought movie reviewing was nothing but fun. Oh well, I put these three movies together, although they have nothing in common but their willingness to be varying degrees of offbeat.
Director Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) has a following among those who like his brand of cinema, which -- honesty compels me to say -- defies easy description. Know, though, that logic takes a back seat to bizarre imagery, strange ideas and a near thorough disregard for credibility. Consider: The elements in In Fabric are unified by a dress that brings those who own it or are associated with it to unhappy ends. In Fabric is such that you may find yourself blanching and laughing as you puzzle your way through Strickland's catalog of bizarre images. The movie divides into halves. In one, a bank clerk named Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) acquires the dress. A single mother living with her grown son (Jaygann Ayeh), Sheila buys the dress from a vampiric-looking salesperson (Fatma Mohamed) at Dentley & Soper, a department store that's having a sale. Sheila's bosses at the bank where she works are two gay men (Steve Oram and Julian Barratt) who rip her performance to shreds, all the while taking care to be ever so solicitous. In the second half of the movie, a washing-machine repairman (Leo Bill) winds up giving the dress to his bride-to-be (Hayley Squires). It may be impossible to watch In Fabric without simultaneously scratching your head. It's also necessary, if grudgingly, to appreciate a masturbation scene involving a mannequin. I'd be lying if I told you I knew exactly what Strickland was getting at (something about rampant, greedy consumerism, I suppose), but say this: It's unlikely that you'll see anything like In Fabric this year. Some will consider that a good thing. Others will play along because Strickland paves the pathway to horror with chuckles. The movie, by the way, also includes what may rank as the worst first date in cinema history.
It's possible to argue that director Jessica Hausner's Little Joe is too quiet for its own good, but it's equally possible to be grateful that her movie won't clobber you over the head. Hausner's movie focuses on Alice (Emily Beecham), a single mother who names a breed of plant she has created after her son Joe (Kit Connor). The plant -- a single red flower perched atop long stem -- is supposed to elicit feelings of happiness from those who own one. The plant was developed at Alice's place of employment, a blandly futuristic company at which bio-engineers grow and market flowers. Chris (Ben Whishaw) works with Alice and also tries to begin a romance with her. Everything looks rosy (pardon the pun) until it becomes apparent that Alice's creation has the power to alter personalities. Given a plant by his mother, Alice's son, for example, suddenly decides that he wishes to live with his father, an option he had previously rejected. It takes time for Alice to accept that a plant significantly could alter someone's outlook, in part because the changes are almost imperceptible. The quietly creepy Little Joe may not be profound, but it deftly sustains a mood of discomfort as it delivers (quietly, of course) its message: One interferes with natural processes at one's peril. Put another way, you might want to see Little Joe as an example of what can be achieved on screen with lab coats, a serviceable premise, and a director who allows her movie to sneak up on you. Or you can think of Little Joe as a horror movie that refuses to raise its voice, something I welcomed.
Knives and Skin
In Knives and Skin, director Jennifer Reeder creates a world-apart feeling as she examines small-town hypocrisies from a female point of view. The best thing about Reeder's movie -- at least for me -- are songs periodically delivered by an all-girls choir. Very haunting. A story that revolves around a teenage girl who goes missing often seems to be operating in a dream world. Since we know from the outset what happened to the girl (Raven Whitley), there's no real mystery. Rather, the disappearance provides a way for Reeder to lift the lid on small-town probity. The characters include a self-impressed high school football player (Ty Olwin), a father (Tim Hopper) who conceals the loss of his job from his wife and a steadfast sheriff (JamesVincent Meredith) with domestic troubles of his own. His wife (Kate Arrington) cheats on him. We also meet classmates of the missing girl and the girl's mother (Marika Engelhardt), a woman who loses her grip. Lest we miss the point that perversity lurks beneath the surface, a girl at the town's high school sells worn women's underwear to her perverted high school principal. Reeder may be aiming to expose the weirdness sometimes and sexism that's rampant in this small town. But, for me, mood trumped meaning and Knives and Skin wore thin.