DIRECTOR: Peter Strickland
CAST: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gwendoline Christie, Fatma Mohamed, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Julian Barrett, Steve Oram, Simon Manyonda, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Caroline Katz,
RUNNING TIME: 118 mins
BASICALLY…: During the winter sale at a department store, a dress is passed from person to person with deadly consequences…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
This review is of the cut shown at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018 – there currently isn’t a UK release date listed for this film.
I have now seen two movies during this year’s BFI London Film Festival that are, visually speaking at least, far more appropriate companion pieces to Dario Argento’s Suspiria than the actual remake to Suspiria; no disrespect to Luca Guadagnino’s film, because while that movie is flawed it does have some merit to its craft, but both Mandy and now Peter Strickland’s In Fabric have that strange, surreal and extremely colourful avant-garde look to them that genuinely feel like films Argento himself would have made in his heyday. I’ll be perfectly honest, out of both those movies I had more fun with In Fabric, which is certainly odd and at times surreal to a fault, but it has fun ideas that it executes with a knowing sense of campiness and satirical humour, and it had some intriguing performances and cinematography that really carried me through some of its stranger moments.
Though it never really specifies when it’s set, it’s heavily implied to take place somewhere between the late 80s or early 90s (a guess based on the overall aesthetic alone, including the old TVs and landlines where people speak their entire number once they pick up the phone), though in a universe like this it could very well be a similar alternate universe approach that It Follows had. Regardless, we open with middle-aged Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a bank teller and single mother who is seeking partnership via wanted ads. When she arranges a date, she heads to a mysterious department store to purchase a dress, and comes across a bright red number that’s a size 36 yet fits her like a glove. However, shortly after her initial use, a bunch of strange events occur, such as the washing machine literally spinning out of control whenever she puts the dress in for a wash, rashes beginning to appear on her body, and odd little bumps in the night that lead Sheila to somewhat believe that the dress may have some kind of supernatural force behind it. As it turns out, she’s probably not wrong; we also see the dress falling into the hands of lowly electrician Reg (Leo Bill) and his fiancé Babs (Hayley Squires), who also experience odd occurrences once both of them – in very different scenarios – try the dress on, only to face the unexpected consequences just as Sheila might be about to be.
A movie about what is essentially a killer dress sounds utterly ridiculous, and as though it would fit right along with certain B-movies of the 50s and 60s that saw everyday items become possessed and turn somewhat murderous. But that, as it turns out, seems to very much be Peter Strickland’s intention; he just manages to do it with the stylings of a Dario Argento movie. Strickland is a filmmaker who seems to delight in making unconventional horror films about the most mundane of things, such as Berberian Sound Studio which somehow makes the simple art of recording sound for movies utterly suspenseful, and with In Fabric he’s crafted something that allows him to have as much fun with this premise as possible, because it seems like even he knows the idea of a possessed red dress that kills people is rather silly, and in response gives the film a wickedly dark sense of humour that nixes any real pretention the film may otherwise have, and highlights how this entire film, from the story to the setting to certainly some of the characters, is a pretty campy experience right from the very beginning. The humour blends satire, social commentary and Python-esque dialogue exchanges into something that’s fully aware of its silliness, but also makes things seem rather creepy just from some of the surreal imagery alone; it’s kind of like this B-movie horror film is happening in the same universe as your average Monty Python sketch, especially when you see comedic actors like Julian Barratt and Steve Oram as a comedic duo react to lines of dialogue, regardless of whether it’s humorous or not.
The humour of this film was something I was enjoying greatly about it, from Barratt and Oram’s scenes to how some people would go straight into an orgasmic trance every time a character begins to spout electrician jargon, and it really helped give this film an odd personality that I could be completely on board with. It helps that Strickland has cast actors who really work well in blending both the dark and the darkly funny aspects in this script, particular Marianne Jean-Baptiste who is an effective straight-(wo)man figure trying to navigate her way throughout some of the strange things she encounters, as well as Hayley Squires who I’ve liked in just about everything I’ve seen her in and is no different in this film, and most notably Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed as a clerk in this increasingly creepy department store who speaks exclusively in long-winded and descriptive sentences even when she’s just trying to say the most basic of things, which did make me laugh quite a few times. All these actors are perfect for this film, because they – like Strickland – are not taking this premise too seriously and are having fun with how they can vamp up their roles as much as possible, turning what could have easily been a pretentious and self-important arthouse horror into something that’s certainly demented but also pretty damn entertaining as well.
I know this review is kind of all over the place, but know that I did really enjoy this movie; I found it to be a fun and campy horror that had a good sense of humour to it as well as some entertaining performance. It’s a unconventional movie that’s definitely worth trying on for size.
SO, TO SUM UP…
In Fabric is a fun, campy and surreal horror film that has a wickedly dark sense of humour to compliment a plot that would just be ridiculous with any other direction, and has some very entertaining performances from actors that know how to make something so out there as a killer dress actually work on-screen.