It’s not very often that a film can be hilarious and unnerving at the same time. In Fabric, the latest film from director Peter Strickland, is one of those rare examples. In a sort of homage to 70’s Italian horror, In Fabric tells the story of a killer dress. The film manages to interweave multiple stories to make one trip of a movie, with a very weird premise.
One thing that makes this film stand out from the rest is its aesthetic. Not since last year’s Suspiria did I experience such a gritty yet beautiful aesthetic. From set design to costume design, In Fabric just oozes style. You get warped into a twisted 1970’s fever dream that make you feel trapped. In much the same way, our central characters feel trapped by their lives.
The focus of In Fabric jumps from one character to another, but it is hardly jarring. That is in no small part thanks to the script by Strickland. The story is just crazy enough and cohesive enough to work. First focusing on divorced mother Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), we see her buy the dress to help spice up her dating life. Little does she know, it ends up doing much more than that. The dress itself is shown just enough in a threatening way to come off cheesy in the right way. Done so purposefully, but still being a threatening presence.
Regarding Marianne, she brings a great performance to the table as a lonely woman. With life throwing curveballs at every corner from work to home, Sheila is a compelling character. It is with her that we are first introduced to the dress and department store it comes from.
From that point the film takes off into strange territory, especially with the whole aesthetic of the department store. I am sure there is some deeper meaning in regards to retail and partly consumerist satire, but whatever it was flew over my head. What caught my attention were the employees in the department store chewing the scenery.
Fatma Mohamed and Richard Bremmer are the standouts in the Department Store, which is a central location of the plot. Playing a store clerk and the manager respectively, the two absolutely make the movie with their odd mannerisms and dialect. Speaking almost entirely in riddles, the two characters are always the best part of scenes they are in. The costumes and set design in the department store specifically are amazing. It is possibly some of the best production design of the year. The department story is practically a character itself.
The use of odd humor in this film involving the killer dress, department store employees, and those unwittingly coming across the dress are what make the film occasionally cross the line between comedy and horror. After Sheila, Washing Machine Repairman Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) comes across the dress. Serving as the narrative focus for the second half of the film, which steps much more into humorous territory. If anything, the first half of In Fabric deals more with the horror aspect of the dress while the second half delves more into the comedic aspect.
Leo Bill plays monotone straight man in the best way possible. His interactions with other characters and how the dress gets into this narrative is incredibly amusing. While Marianne as Shelia provided less levity and more seriousness and genuine horror, the character of Reg Speaks is here to amuse. The interactions provided by this character as well as wonderfully delivered monologues make for a satisfying second half of the film. Overall, In Fabric has a compelling and odd story and some of the best performances of the year.
Moving on to score, provided by Cavern of Anti-Matter, elevates the film with its synth beats and hypnotizing rhythm. Paired with the old school cinematography and interesting classic camera movements and transitions used in films of that era, it genuinely feels like you are watching a movie from the 70’s. Despite an ambiguous ending and no real explanation for why the dress is the way it is, this film is a real triumph in regard to its homage to Italian horror. In Fabric is almost so ambiguous in its delivery it could leave some viewers confused and not interested in the film.
In Fabric is a great example of great execution of a promising concept. A homage to 70’s Italian Horror centering around a killer dress? That could have gone wrong in so many ways. Instead, Strickland provides an amusing and unsettling technical achievement that tells a confusing but compelling story. The film is certainly one of the most different of the year, and solely because of that deserves to be seen when possible. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10
In Fabric Opens in U.S Theaters December 6th, 2019