UK | 2018 | Directed by Peter Strickland
Logline: A haunted dress ruins the lives of several people who purloin it in the hope it brings them love.
Writer/director Strickland fancies himself a bit of an old-school auteur, and with his fourth feature he descends unabashedly into the realm of Argento-esque weirdness, which he flirted with on his second feature Berberian Sound Studio. His love of deep Euro-trashy aesthetics verges on fetishistic. Pushing the boundaries, then pulling them back again. In Fabric is his most ardent and unhinged movie yet.
Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a divorcée single mum trying to cope with her young adult son bringing his lovers-with-attitude home, such as Gwen (Gwendoline Christie). Sheila is not having much luck in the dating game herself. She decides to spruce herself up and purchases a garment from a popular 1950s-styled haute couture clothing store during its busy winter sales period.
Indeed Dentley & Soper’s Miss Luckmoore (Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed) seems to have stepped right of Dario Argento’s Inferno, a kind of corseted head witch who speaks in a highly stylized retail culture vernacular, and is most heavy with her powers of persuasion.
Before Sheila can say, “Chiffon, silk and satin, double dream, diamond-wrapped, purpose embroidered, body sensual” she is entranced, and the dagger neckline dress is at one with her. So much so, when she takes the dress off it leaves a nasty scar-like rash on her upper breast, as if to say, “How very dare you!”
But the rash is only the start of her troubles. This malevolent artery red number wants more than just a figure-hugging curve to cling to, and there’ll be scarlet tears before bedtime.
Like some kind of strange bad dream In Fabric weaves a psychosexual spell. Part supernatural horror-thriller, part darkened comedy of manners, part soft erotic excursion - with one sticky scene involving Miss Luckmoore and the storeowner Mr. Lundy (Richard Bremmer) that seems spurted straight from a Borowczyk indulgence!
It’s a hybrid that is bizarre and tantalizing, but doesn’t reward in the ways one anticipates. Instead the dress makes it way through several other unsuspecting victims - more captivating, candlelight glances and canapé conversations - and instead of the suspense and tension being ratcheted up, it begins to dissipate, leaving the fiery climax a little undercooked. Perhaps In Fabric might have worked more effectively as a shorter, sharper segment within an anthology.
But it’s such an idiosyncratic oneirodynia that one can’t help but feel impressed by the movie’s saturated, feverish vibe, highlighted by the resonant electronic score from Cavern of Anti-Matter, and the charismatic performances from the key cast, especially Mohamed, who steals every scene she’s in, but nice work from Hayley Squires as another caught “in fabric”.
I feel Strickland is moving steadily toward a truly brilliant movie, but he’s not quite there yet.