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DIRECTED BY: Peter Strickland
FEATURING: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohamed, Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt
PLOT: Sheila, a divorcee in the market for a new man, purchases a new red dress for a series of dates; things do not turn out well for her. Separately, Reg Speaks is a washing machine repairman about to marry is longtime girlfriend; after wearing that same red dress on his stag night, things turn out poorly for him, as well.
COMMENTS: For capsule reviews, we aim to describe the action in one sentence. However, among the number of odd things about In Fabric is the fact that this is really two films in one: a pretty good feature-length story about Sheila’s experiences with a cursed red dress, and a much weirder, shorter film about Reg’s experiences with that same dress. There are plenty of strange things going on in this movie, and in many ways it should qualify for apocryphally weird status. Unfortunately, while the graft is forgivable, it fails overall.
Peter Strickland, who wrote and directed, clearly has an obsession with 1970s exploitation—his two previous films both focus on that decade and that genre—and his penchant for giallo shines through brightly. The red of the dress and the red lighting of the strange advertisements for “Dentley and Sopers Trusted Department Store” are the most obvious tributes, with the movie’s palette generally mimicking whatever evil form of technicolor was used by the original giallists. In Fabric could be viewed as a love letter to that arty vein of horror, albeit a letter with an incredibly long postscript.
I enjoyed watching this, despite a glaring flaw: it was difficult to commit to the characters. Sheila’s tale ultimately left me indifferent, but the story of “Reg Speaks” was more in the transcendent mold, almost literally. Reg’s last name is strange, but apt. Though a lowly washing machine mechanic, he has something of a super power: the ability to bring listeners to an orgasmic trance while speechifying on the finer details of the problems vexing broken machines. In the world of In Fabric his reputation is such that even the bank managers whom he sees about a loan know about it, and want him to do a “role-playing” exercise so they can enjoy his mesmeric talents. (Julian Barratt plays one of these bank managers, with a performance that expertly rides along the razor’s edge of hilarious and mundane. Describing a memo about having a “meaningful handshake”, he explains, “It’s written in a fun, easy language, with a cartoon at the end that summarizes key points.”)
Fatma Mohamed, as the chief store clerk, stands out among the madness. She makes one believe she could be an alien, a demon, or perhaps a mannequin brought to life by some eccentric paranormal force. Her lines (“The hesitation in your voice: soon to be an echo in the spheres of retail” or “dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements”) sound like ornately translated Italian as delivered by a supernatural facsimile of a sales woman.
Strickland will hopefully sort his visions out enough to make that truly weird, and truly worthwhile, movie in the future (under the guidance, perhaps, of Ben Wheatley, executive producer here). But, measuring In Fabric, we find all the pieces are there, but he’s crafted something altogether ill-fitting.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“What’s less engaging is the suspicion that neither of these stories was substantial enough for a feature film on their own, and so they were combined to make a justifiable whole. The film’s demented satire of consumer culture and weird diversions into psychosexual nightmare fuel are less reliant on a coherent narrative arc, however, and Strickland’s unique ability to convey the sense of touch in an audio-visual medium isn’t dependent on story at all.”–Katie Rife, The AV Club (contemporaneous)
2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: IN FABRIC (2018)”
I’ve been watching my way through Peter Strickland’s movies lately (seen this, Berberian Sound Studio, and The Duke of Burgundy aswell as his short films Cold Meridian and Conduct Phase) and though all his films seem to be just missing something to make them brilliant, they are definitely of interest for weird movie fans and has such a unique sound design.
I found this one to be his weirdest, though think The Duke of Burgundy may be his ‘best’ but enjoyed all three and hope he makes it on the list some day.
While I personally love this movie and realize the reviewer wasn’t quite convinced, I think it should be considered as a candidate for the apocryphal list. The somewhat imbalanced “halves” of In Fabric help to highlight its inherent weirdness. Yes, sure, the format likely came about because Sheila’s story couldn’t be stretched enough to carry a whole feature film, but the way that the movie moves from a grounded, charismatic woman who is in over her head and at the mercy of both the killer dress and her job as a bank teller in what is clearly a cult headed up by two guys who consume absurdist buzzword smoothies for breakfast to two characters who on their own aren’t much to write home about allows the film to be flexible. Part 1 is a comedic but straightforward giallo film where Miss Luckmoore and the department store carry the brunt of the surrealist trappings, but once the movie transitions into Part 2, a hypnotic and nonsensical romp spearheaded by Reg and the seeming dissolution of society encapsulated within one floor of a department store. It’s wild and wonderful in a way that doesn’t follow expectations, leads to some truly chuckle-worthy dialog, and really can’t be summed up as “a movie about a killer dress”. If being too unwieldy to fit into a neat single sentence isn’t a sign of weirdness, then I don’t know what is.