Sew Torn is a Brilliant Crime Thriller With a Time-Twisting Gimmick

A Coen Brothers thriller meets a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story.

Macdonald Entertainment Partners
Inverse Reviews

Freddy Macdonald’s feature debut Sew Torn is something special. The twenty-something Student Academy Award winner is the "youngest Directing Fellow ever accepted to the AFI Conservatory," all earned through a few acclaimed shorts. He turns one of those shorts into a feature-length film with Sew Torn, which treats sleepy rural criminality like In Fabric filmmaker Peter Strikland’s take on Fargo, threading the needle with precision as his conceptual inventiveness shines.

Eve Connolly stars as Barbara Duggen, locally known as “The Mobile Seamstress.” She’s inherited the family business making “Talking Portraits” out of stitch art panels and pull-string voice boxes, but profits have plummeted. Barbara botches her only booking of the day, popping a button off Grace Vessler’s (Caroline Goodall) wedding dress, so she darts in her miniature Threadmobile back toward her storefront — and stumbles upon a drug handoff gone south. The struggling threader has a choice, with countless paths and unique consequences to weigh. Barbara could snatch the unprotected dirty money, save an injured gunman (Calum Worthy plays nepotism thug Joshua Armitage), or anything in between — which the film shows us as an exercise in the troubles we often seek.

Sew Torn advances like a deadly Choose-Your-Own-Adventure flick told from Barbara’s perspective, since we witness multiple outcomes based on her actions. Freddy and his co-writer Fred Macdonald (also his father) mess around with butterfly-effect arguments about how a single decision sends rippling consequences throughout the universe. Life doesn’t come with a redo button that lets us see multiple destinies before picking one, but that doesn’t make the Macdonald Boys’ screenplay less effective. Sew Torn becomes a beguiling representation of how the most insignificant choice can change boundless outcomes, a relatively common theme throughout cinematic storytelling that Freddy presents with a top-notch spin.

The film isn’t just about a seamstress; Sew Torn is practically sewn together. Barbara almost feels like a B-tier Gotham villain in how she handles situations by leveraging her bobbins of colored threads to use as rigged pulleys. Barbara utilizes her deep professional knowledge of knots, material durability, and Rube Goldberg-esque blueprints to rig these elaborate traps like a game of Mouse Trap because that’s her advantage. She’s no fighting match for underworld types played by Calum Worthy, John Lynch, and Thomas Douglas — but she is one heck of a seamstress. That’s apparent even in set decorations since Barbara’s ceiling is covered in what looks like Cat’s Cradle designs because if Freddy is anything, he’s a thematic completionist who delivers on conceptual immersion and then some.

Sew Torn juggles its multiple alternate timelines with finesse.

Macdonald Entertainment Pictures

I mention Fargo as a comparison point because more characters with quirky and well-defined personalities enter the fold as Sew Torn twists into different shapes. Goodall’s unknowing instigator is one pawn on the board, a frantic and high-strung bride-to-be who demands perfection. K Callan’s law enforcer, notary, and wedding officiant is a scene-stealer when her services are required, adding to the overall zaniness of an elderly cop who doesn’t even blink when confronted by a mob boss. Lynch gets to be all mean and nasty as said boss, bringing guns-drawn imposition in spades, while Worthy projects the opposite as his son, who pisses himself and botches his first illegal encounter. Freddy presents a rogues gallery of players with a very Coen brother sensibility, but never without losing Connolly’s anchoring performance through spinster tropes and existentially curious narration.

Freddy sets Sew Torn in the Swiss Alps, giving the vibes of an idyllic resort town with gorgeous and desolate valleys where drug handoffs might thrive (away from heavy populations). Again, speaking to the filmmaker’s attention to detail, Freddy and his production departments nail the quaintness of humbler locales where murders and stolen briefcases feel so interestingly alien. The natural beauty of Alpine mountain ranges is not lost amidst motorcycle crashes and explosions, nor does Sebastian Klinger’s cinematographer squander striking glimpses of lush scenic routes as Barbara drives up winding inclines on swerving roads toward wooden Swiss chalets. Jacob Tardien’s score even helps to accentuate visuals and moods, leaning into the “weirdness” of what’s happening with what sounds like theremin humming atop plucky, happy-go-lucky tunes.

The more I think about Sew Torn, the more its inspired brand of uplifting thriller dynamics rattles around in my head, the more I’m impressed by newcomer Freddy Macdonald. There’s a refreshing originality about Sew Torn that’s hard to come down from, nor do the story’s threads ever cross into a tangled blob. Maybe if time-loops stereotypes aren’t your thing, you’ll have a hard time reliving cheeky reused lines of dialogue — but even at that, Freddy isn’t playing by rigid time-loop rules. Sew Torn adheres to its unorthodox ideals and blends subgenres with fashionable strokes, paying off anything from upbeat humor to foolhardy crime scene thefts. Freddy’s skillful and snappy debut is noteworthy and promising; how many filmmakers can say something they made as a prospective student was good enough to inspire a major motion picture?

Sew Torn premiered March 11 at SXSW. It does not yet have a distributor.

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