April (Amanda Fuller) and Eric (Ethan Embry) own a vintage clothing store in Austin, Texas and are happily married. Until April suspects Eric is having an affair. Possibly with their newly-hired attractive young shop-girl, Sherry (Alexandria DeBerry). Or maybe not. As her life and mind start to unravel, April seeks solace in an extreme form of retail therapy, indulging her obsession with clothes. From there she throws caution to the wind and embarks on an affair with Randall (Eric Balfour), a smooth-talking yuppie she meets at a bar. He leads April down a path more sinister than she could have imagined, with devastating consequences.
Another offbeat offering from British director Simon Rumley, Fashionista continues his evolution from quirky indie exploitation hand to provocative art-horror auteur. It is a compelling mix of fly on the wall character study with dreamy, unsettling psychological horror inspired by the films of Nicolas Roeg. A fact acknowledged in the closing credits. Throughout the film Rumley utilizes mind-bending techniques familiar from Roeg classics (e.g. Don't Look Now (1973), Bad Timing (1980)). The plot unfolds in defiantly non-linear fashion, jumping backwards and forwards in time, while Rumley indulges in elliptical asides that blur reality and fantasy and interweaves a seemingly parallel plot involving a mysterious young woman in a psychiatric clinic. He also peppers the film with allusions to other auteurs active in this niche sub-genre, such as having April and Eric's vintage clothes strewn, claustrophobic apartment adorned with posters for notable art-horror works like Tenebrae (1982) and The Night Porter (1974).
Audacious and visually inventive, Fashionista stays compelling even while its storytelling treads a razor line between refreshingly challenging and frustratingly vague. The film is at its strongest when focused primarily on the deterioration of a relationship along with the heroine's psyche. That said April's extreme obsession with clothes as both lifeline, source of escapism and statement to the world is not quite fleshed out enough to seem much more than psychological window dressing. Lead actress Amanda Fuller, essaying a pleasingly unconventional heroine, anchors the film quite brilliantly through a myriad mind-bending twists and turns, with a performance by turns sensual, unhinged and vulnerable. Watching April coo in ecstasy or sigh with relief as she adorns a succession of chic outfits conveys the emotional impact of her obsession with greater clarity than is evident in the script.
Curiously while the heroine's 'unhealthy' obsession with retail therapy is her defining character trait it does not really factor into the plot. Instead Eric Balfour's Mephistophelian yuppie steers the plot into territory not far removed from the sado-'erotic' nonsense of Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) by way of Eyes Wide Shut (1999) only less glossy and more disturbing, lifting a familiar plot contrivance or two from Alfred Hitchcock. If the resulting twists strain credibility, solid ensemble performances keep things grounded. To his credit Rumley dares the viewer to keep pace with the film, piling on shifts in time and perspective and filling in blank spaces with yet more questions. The denouement is certainly interesting but springs one final mind-bending twist used so often in other thrillers it leaves Fashionista looking like a more conventional fable than it actually is.