A malevolent scarlet dress wreaks havoc in this mischievously entertaining and sophisticated genre-twister. Melding retro chills, anti-consumerist treatise and bonkers social satire, with a good dollop of sensual witchery woven in, director Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy) once again nails the quality of strangeness inherent in giallo and Euro-horror.
Dentley & Sopers Trusted Department Store offers ladies all they could desire, and it is here that Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a beleaguered bank employee, comes looking for something nice to wear on her first date with Adonis, encountered over the internet. She is beguiled into purchasing a vibrant dress – Demonic Red would describe it well – by the head salesclerk, who like the rest of the exceedingly strange staff, wears a voluminous black gown, accompanied by a bulbous, lacquered hairdo and razor-red lipstick and nail polish. The fetishist look is matched by convoluted enticements veering between loopy sales pitch, philosophical riddles and vaguely menacing flirtation.
And, at night, the staff get up to kinky stuff with the mannequins. Not that Sheila is privy to any of the latter. Her teenage son’s domineering girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie) and the pair’s loud sexual shenanigans are already more than enough to deal with, as is the rash that suddenly appears after she wears the dress. Unbeknownst to Sheila, her purchase possesses dark intentions unrelated to sartorial splendour; she won’t be the garment’s only victim…
In the outlandish world depicted, rippling with erotic undertones and entrancing colours and textures, the monotonous description of washing machine parts sends bank managers into raptures and customer garment-lust leads to a full-blown store riot. Mordantly funny and stylish. — SR