Patchwork (2015)

Patchwork first published by EyeforFilm

One day – Friday the 13th, if you listen carefully – three complete strangers all spend an evening in the same bar, without actually running into each other. Not long after, lonely corporate Jennifer (Tory Stolper), airheaded ‘bar star’ Ellie (Tracey Fairaway) and quiet Madeleine (Maria Blasucci) wake up on a slab in a warehouse laboratory to find their very different backgrounds, characters and appearances stitched together into a single, grotesque body. Confused, they flee – but these three singletons will have to work in concert to find out how they came to be this ‘single gal’ of a different kind. Along the way, they will take advantage of their new empowerment to get some bloody revenge on the different men – cheating lovers, gang-banging fratboys, self-absorbed artists, overenthusiastic cosmetic surgeons – who have made their lives a misery. Only nice-guy Garrett (James Phelps), an English medical student who went to college with Jennifer, will eventually win over their heart(s) and mind(s) – but as internal tensions, and a predilection for ultraviolence, emerge, the three women, finding it increasingly hard to go on living with each other, start cracking at the seams.

In keeping with its title, Patchwork is a film that comes in parts – eight in total (plus a prologue), each with its own numbered heading. About half of these are flashbacks, sewing the conjoined trio’s histories into the film’s narrative tapestry, so that viewers – along with the characters – must gradually piece together these women’s separate identities in order to understand in full their decidedly psychotic collective conduct. Meanwhile Patchwork also keeps switching from an external view of the hybrid creature that the women have become, to an internalised ‘headspace’ psychodrama in which all three actresses appear, engaging in an ongoing three-way dialectic with each other, sometimes collaborative, sometimes divisive. This may sound complicated on paper, but on screen it is an economic, easily digestible and very funny way of showing that a clumsy, vindictive, schizophrenic chimera is also a multi-faceted product of the conflicting drives and pressures (to be sexually available, to conform to impossible ideals of beauty, to bow to male demands) which are imposed on women in a men’s world. Or, as the film’s mad scientist (Corey Sorenson) puts it in a hilariously amateurish infomercial for his plastic surgery outfit, “Today’s modern woman expects to see in the mirror what she feels like on the inside. We are dedicated to building a better you.”

Expanding his short film of the same name from 2014, director Tyler MacIntyre has also crafted a loving patchwork of other films. For this is The Three Faces of Eve (1957) by way of Frankenstein (1931) – the latter referenced even in the bar’s name, Vic’s. The prologue, in which the Surgeon is seen romancing a disembodied head before injecting a lurid green quickening serum into a corpse, channels both Frankenhooker (1990) and Re-Animator (1985) – and the spirit of Stuart Gordon and Frank Henenlotter continues to be resurrected in both detailed points of plot and the overall tone of outrageous transgression. Parts have also been borrowed from other films: the creature’s screaming, anguished flight from the warehouse visually evokes the opening scene of Martyrs (2008); when Madeleine, listing her abilities, adds, “I can hold my breath for a really long time,” she is quoting Creepshow (1982); and before undergoing a perverted version of the makeover-in-montage so beloved of rom coms, the monster walks through LA dressed in a trenchcoat, bandages, hat and dark glasses, concealing her horrific appearance in the instantly recognisable guise of The Invisible Man (1933).

Patchwork itself does something similar, playing dress-up with the familiar trappings of genre to shroud its sly subtexts (dysmorphia, sisterhood, the entrapment of women within patriarchal expectations) beneath an always engaging, often intriguing and highly comical story of the monstrous feminine.

© Anton Bitel