Cozy crime is a subgenre in which intriguing tales of murder boast a jaunty aesthetic that’s irreverently twee. Think Only Murders in the Building, with its foolhardy amateur sleuths alternately investigating homicide and bickering over their podcast’s production. Think Pushing Daisies, a candy-colored mystery series about a lovelorn pie-maker who can literally raise the dead to solve their murders. Think Sew Torn. 

Written and directed by Freddy Macdonald, this inventive indie crime comedy begins with a drug deal gone violently wrong, before stitching together a multi-thread tale of an unlikely criminal mastermind: a mild-mannered mobile seamstress played by Eve Connolly (Vikings)

What’s Sew Torn about?

Sew Torn is set in a picturesque village high in the mountains, where a pleasant business district boasts quaint shops. One such shop is owned by seamstress Barbara Duggen (Connolly), who offers custom embroideries alongside alterations. Further out, vibrant green pastures dotted with cows stretch to a mighty concrete bridge overlooking a misty valley, reaching even farther to stately homes, where a wealthy bride-to-be (a hilariously harsh Caroline Goodall) is in a snit over a fallen button. 

In an opening in which Barbara barely speaks, Macdonald swiftly sets up how this young woman has shrunken in the shadow of her late mother, the original mobile seamstress. Trapped by her dedication to carry on her mother’s work even as the family business fails, Barbara’s fingers twitch at rebellion as she stitches. Her urge for self-sabotage might be ruinous, but at least it could bring something new. By flicking a button into a floor vent, she must flee the growling bride to get another. Barbara’s lovely commute back to her village is interrupted when she comes across a pair of bumbling gangsters on a blood-spattered, remote road.

A clever lass, Barbara takes one quick look at the scene and assesses from the felled motorcycles, hobbled goons, and scattered bags of white powder that the briefcase skittered down the road is full of cash. “A perfect crime,” she says to herself, seeing a solution to her financial woes. She doesn’t just pick up the money and run, though. Instead, Barbara uses her handy seamstress kit and its brightly colored threads to create a Rube Goldberg machine that should neatly dispose of the messier bits of this could-be heist. Despite her quick thinking, things don’t exactly go to plan. 

Sew Torn offers a collection of possibilities and quirky characters. 

In 1998, writer/director Tom Tykwer awed critics with his high-energy crime thriller Run Lola Run, which featured a flame-haired Franka Potente chasing down several different solutions to save her scheming boyfriend from a deadly fate. Sew Torn offers Barbara a similar bargain. When her perfect crime proves deeply flawed (and fatal), rather than leaving her bleeding out in a cornfield, Macdonald thrusts her back onto that road, staring down the coveted briefcase once more. 

Armed with some hard-won knowledge from her previous encounter with the briefcase, Barbara tries a new plan; she calls the cops. Well, actually, this village is so small that she calls the cop, an elderly woman who is not only the sheriff but also the local notary and the justice of the peace. Far from a hard-ass, K Callan (Poker Face, Knives Out) brings the energy of Coen brothers comedy, as her character can suss out bullshit with ease yet exudes patience and empathy. She’ll collar all three of these crooks with the sternness of a school marm teaching a lesson. 

Here and throughout the other threads, Barbara’s choices knit in a reluctant gangster (Calum Worthy), a frantic thug (Thomas Douglas), a chatty embroidery enthusiast (Ron Cook), and a merciless kingpin (John Lynch). Each gets their moment to shine via Sew Torn‘s curious narrative structure. Some imbrue menace, while others give off agony, and still others a boisterous warmth. Yet all would be for naught if Connolly weren’t crushing the lead role. 

Eve Connolly proves she’s a captivating leading lady in Sew Torn. 

While this crime comedy can get quite silly with its violent slapstick, thread-centric machinations, and kooky criminals, Barbara is the straight man surrounded by stooges. Her expression is often drawn, her eyes spiked with calculation. While other characters bloviate about their lives, Barbara is a much more internal character, her quietness making her seem all the more an outsider in her hometown. But Connolly makes sure Barbara never feels flat or passive. Voiceovers framing the beginning and the end give audiences a peek into Barbara’s thinking, but mostly we rely on Connolly’s sharp facial expression and precise physicality for insight. 

All of this interiority makes a sharp contrast in the third thread of the film all the more exciting. In this sequence, Barbara’s only path to survival is to throw herself into a dance number. It is explosive and inexplicable. Her limbs fling about madly while her face is sharply focused. This is not a celebration; it is a scheme tied to strings. And of all the incredible things she pulls off with thread, it’s the most climactic and wickedly fun. 

Macdonald enhances the fantastical possibilities of this crime-ridden tale with color, using vivid hues but a medium contrast. There’s grays within these tones, perhaps reflecting Barbara’s boredom with these surroundings despite their beauty. Yet there’s no ignoring the boldness of things like the dazzling blue of her eyes, the harsh red of blood, and the bright yellow thread wrapped around the giant bobbin at the back of her teal Volkswagen bug (a cutesy signifier of her trade). Notably, each color is reflected in literal threads that prove crucial to Barbara’s plans. Each burst of color speaks to Barbara’s possibilities for more than mending. She can remake the world around her or tear it to shreds. But what to do with that knowledge?

Thanks to a crackling cast, a clever color scheme, and a plotline that’s uniquely knotty, Macdonald makes Sew Torn a sensational experience. It has the cheeky fun of a top-notch crime comedy without losing the edge of life-or-death stakes. With a series of possibilities being unspooled, the movie is delightfully unpredictable. Its leading lady lands each beat, be it one of harrumphing frustration, a outrageous dance, or a dangerous hope. And in the end, it leaves its audience dizzy but satisfied by its wild spins. 

Sew Torn was reviewed out of its World Premiere at SXSW 2024.

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