IN FABRIC / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PETER STRICKLAND / STARRING: GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE, SIDSE BABETT-KNUDSEN, MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE, CAROLINE CATZ, JULIAN BARRATT / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 28TH
It’s a rare thing to find truly distinctive filmmakers, those who seem to project their unique way of looking at the world into every frame of their art. Those whose films you can identify immediately as the work of a particular director, a true auteur, and the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Peter Greenaway, and Terence Davies all spring to mind. Peter Strickland is such a director. Strickland's presence is woven into In Fabric's every scene as much as fiendish devilment is woven into the dress which is at the centre of the plot.
A winter sale in a hilariously yet disturbingly bizarre department store draws the attention of a lonely, recently separated middle-aged woman (Jean-Baptiste, who’s brilliant) searching for something to wear as she goes on dates as a result of her lonely hearts advert in the paper. Captivated by a particularly eye-catching red dress, she's seduced by it and the hypnotic, elaborately eloquent, ultra-mannered shop assistant (Fatma Mohamed - even more brilliant in one of the finest performances of the year so far). She buys it, not knowing that the dress is possessed and the shop some kind of gateway to something eternal, something sinister.
And that's just the first part, as the dress goes on to possess again in a second, unexpected but connected story of a washing machine repairman and his fiancé.
Throughout, there are montages of ‘70s fashion catalogues, sudden bursts of sound (he’s a director who is just as particular about his soundtracks as his visuals), an absolutely terrifying yet mundane TV ad for the hellish department store and some of the most bizarrely erotic images seen on screen for some time, if masturbating shop dummies is your thing. Sound bizarre? Well, yes, and quite gloriously so.
Anyone who has seen a Peter Strickland film before will be familiar with his distinctive style, reflecting obvious obsessions with the likes of giallo cinema and soft core ‘70s euro porn. Previous films such as Berberian Sound Studio (2012), and what could be his masterpiece, the stunningly original The Duke of Burgundy (2014) have suggested what a singular talent Strickland is and in In Fabric, he maintains that status whilst not quite offering a fully successful narrative.
What does come across brilliantly at all times is how well he understands cinema and what he’s doing. The film is in turns creepy, sensual, gory, and laugh out loud funny. Really, you’ll be hard pressed to find better comic moments in a full-on comedy this year, with great turns, in particular, from Julian Barrett, Steve Oram, and Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones fame. And that’s very deliberate, Strickland playing with our expectations of what a horror film is, acknowledging and playing with the absurdity of a haunted dress flying around and slipping underneath doors. This is nowhere better evidenced than in the film's climax, which manages to mix utter hilarity and horrific terror within the same scenes - not an easy trick to pull off but here it’s done masterfully.
It’s not going to be for everyone, certainly. And, as mentioned, even if the whole this time doesn’t quite add up to the glorious parts, In Fabric is still a must see because it is, after all, a Peter Strickland film.
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10