Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” is like an article of clothing that seems attractive but upon closer inspection, you notice its unexpected shocking, hypnotic patterned lining. There is a familiar feel, but much of its bold stylish aspects are jolting and will either delight or displease viewers. Strickland does not suppress his creativity one bit, delivering a wildly original anthology film.
It starts with a middle-aged woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who lives a rather mundane daily existence that will certainly seem recognizable for many. Her love life is a mess – she’s divorced and her dating prospects seem to have one thing in common, they really want to use coupons on their dates. Her thankless adult son has no issue commandeering her apartment along with his poor-attitude, dominatrix girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie). Things are no better at work, where although she is performing well she is micromanaged to the point of absurdity.
In an attempt to inject some joy and flavor into her life, she does something atypical for her. She heads to the high-end Dentley and Sopers Department Store to buy some temporarily happiness in the form of a vivid red dress. This is no ordinary, off the rack dress – no matter who the owner is, the artery red, size 36 dress seduces them by fitting perfectly as if it’s a custom-tailored. There is a catch though, the dress not only looks killer on you, it also a killer dress… literally.
From the opening moments of it is apparent that the film is not going to follow any of the modern tropes we are accustomed to. “In Fabric” is certainly a mood piece where Strickland uses his strong visual style and remarkable sound design to whisk viewers away in a cinematic time machine to a world reminiscent of 70s/80s horror films.
The score is full of pulsing harpsichords, strings, and synthesizers, provoking chills while building anticipation of impending doom. The unsettling is the television commercial that opens the film plays over an old tube television and begins with the menacing pulse sounds of synthesizers. On-screen are old school 80s graphics and footage of the peculiar store staff waving in unsuspecting guests. It truly feels like it could play right along with the eerie Silver Shamrock jingle commercial from 1982’s “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch” and no one would bat an eye.
Visually. the film is well-stitched clothe with cinematography, hair, makeup, and costumes that all contribute to the menacing tone even in typically amiable settings. This is most evident in the shop where the sinister dress is purchased. The shopkeepers are dressed in black Victorian-era clothing with perfectly swept-up hair and deep red lipstick.
These sales ladies would be right at place in Dario Argento’s “Suspira.” As customers ponder their buying options the lead salesperson, (played to precision by Fatma Mohamed) entices them to purchase using riddles that are both seductive and foreboding. “In apprehensions lie the crevices of clarity,” is far more disturbing than “Welcome to Walmart!. Okay, maybe not that creepy, but you get my point.
The retro-feel horror is blended with strong elements comedy and relatable performances (especially by the wonderful Jean-Baptiste) creating the film’s incomparable tone. The themes explored are plentiful from sexuality to anti-consumerism, but to enjoy the film you really do not need to dissect and analyze it at a deeper level. Viewers may prefer to just let it drape over them and savor the surreal, eccentric WTF moments as they unfold. There are so many details and moments that you should experience unspoiled. It is a weird, creepy and clever yarn.