In Fabric

 

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Peter Strickland remains his own man but with a film that is uniquely odd.

 
In Fabric

Marianne Jean-Baptiste

 

It was a foregone conclusion that this film would be stylish because that has always been a hallmark of Peter Strickland's work along with his regular espousal of unusual material as is clear from such undertakings as Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and The Duke of Burgundy (2014). It was in the former that Toby Jones played a sound engineer unhinged by working on an Italian horror film and that now stands out as providing a link with In Fabric which has been described by some as a horror movie reflecting the giallo style. However, mention of a comedy element and one's awareness that the notion of a genre piece from Strickland is almost a contradiction in terms left me uncertain what to expect.

 

And, yes, In Fabric did surprise me, but partly because it has won such high praise in early reviews from abroad. Admittedly, it can be described in terms that hardly reflect its strangeness. If the ballet in Powell and Pressburger's classic The Red Shoes featured footwear fatal to the one wearing them, it's not too much of a leap to a red dress that, changing hands, leads to the deaths of those who put it on. The idea of a serial killer in the form of a garment may be novel, but it could still lead to a standard horror movie. However, In Fabric is anything but that. With one death having occurred mysteriously before the narrative begins, it proves to be a two-part tale in which a couple of successive purchasers are at risk but the horror element is muted in the extreme.

 

Set in London some years ago, In Fabric is an all-out attack on consumerism and on the way in which a dress store entices women into believing that a dress can transform their lives. Two such women are Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who, separated from her husband, is replying to lonely-hearts advertisements and Babs (Hayley Squires) about to be married to her rather timid long-term boyfriend (Leo Bill). Both actresses are rightly respected and do all that they can to make us accept the story. But as writer Strickland seems to feel that it is unnecessary to explain anything. The dress has a life of its own - it can levitate, it causes rashes (hardly a frisson for horror fans) and it is positively destructive to washing machines, but why it is cursed and how those running the store - the eccentrically foreign Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) and the Nosferatu-like Mr Lundy (Richard Bremmer) - have control of it (the saleswomen bring to mind witches in a coven) remains an obscure mystery. Similarly, when they get up to perverse sexual goings on with mannequins in a cellar reached by a dumb waiter it all seems there for its own sake rather than due to any logic.

 

Alongside all this and in a style so different that it seems to belong to another film altogether, we have a comic turn from Julian Barratt and Steve Oram as managers in the bank where Sheila works: their eccentric dialogue echoes indirectly a tone found in certain stage plays by Harold Pinter or N.J. Simpson. However, its humour is too offbeat to link effectively with the film's issues about capitalism and consumerism and quite divorced from the horror element. The film certainly looks good (the red of that dress is ideal) and the film is very well played, but in describing In Fabric as an oddity I push the term to its limit. Nevertheless, some critics are devotees of the film and presumably not just admirers of its stylishness.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Gwendoline Christie, Barry Adamson, Jaygann Ayeh, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Richard Bremmer, Terry Bird, Fatma Mohamed.

 

Dir Peter Strickland, Pro Andy Starke, Screenplay Peter Strickland, Ph Ari Wegner, Pro Des Paki Smith, Ed Mátyás Fekete, Music Cavern of Anti-Matter, Costumes Jo Thompson.

 

BFI/BBC Films/Head Gear Films/Metrol Technology/Twickenham Studios/Rook Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
119 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 28 June 2019. Cert. 15.