In Fabric, 2018.
Directed by Peter Strickland.
Starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Gwendoline Christie and Julian Barratt
Somewhere in the North of England, during the height of the Winter shopping sales, lonely divorcee Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is sold a dress by a mysterious shop clerk (Fatma Mohamed), in preparation for her dating agency dinner with Adonis. Little does she know, that not only is the red number a perfect fit for whoever wears it, but it’s also a cursed garment, bringing bad luck to its owners, and destruction to any washing machine it’s placed in.
If you’re not familiar with the work of Peter Strickland, prepare for an idiosyncratic journey of horror, witchcraft and broken washing machines. In Fabric initially follows Sheila – who’s searching for the perfect dress for a date through the newspaper classified adverts. But as she soon comes to realise, there’s something very, very wrong with it. Cue; haunting sounds clawing their way from the wardrobe, ritualistic perversions involving mannequins and the dress itself attempting to throttle Gwendoline Christie. This is anything but the stereotypical slasher horror.
While Strickland’s characters deal with their own bad luck through the dress, there’s none more unsettling than Sheila’s teenage son attempting to replace her by dating an overbearing older woman (Gwendoline Christie), whose sexual prowess and constant presence in the house toys with some unsettlingly freudian undertones. But it does all this with a precisely deadpan style of humour and horror fans will most likely be divided over whether In Fabric achieves what it sets out to do or not. That’s largely down to the unique approach from Strickland – for those looking for jump-scares and gory set pieces, this might not be the one for you.
The obvious stand-out star here is Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who’s crippling fear of being alone pushes her to seek out romantic relationships with men barely interested in her existence. Her performance is quietly gripping as she slowly tumbles into desperation to get rid of the dress. She’s subjected to absurdity after absurdity – and while it takes till around the 30 minute mark for the dress to develop its genuine bite, the malevolent force it harbours soon becomes a playfully sadistic threat. It’s Sheila’s story that’s the entertaining backbone of In Fabric (alongside a bloody reason for paying attention to the washing instructions). But as the film moves onto the second owner of the dress, it starts to fray at the seams.
While the audience is introduced to the mundane life of Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) his life never seems as tragically interesting as Sheila’s. Sure, it results in a great finale that acts as a dark parable for Black Friday and those winter sales, but it just seems to stumble through each scene from his introduction. His story more feels like an exploration of humorous idiosyncrasies rather than seeing what the dress is really capable of.
Luckily, that portion of the film is saved by the ethereal boutique that the dress came from, and its truly peculiar ritualistic practices involving mannequins. The saving grace here is mainly Fatma Mohammed’s store assistant, as she delivers outlandish lines waxing lyrical on the true nature of retail and the human condition. In Fabric clearly has a truly unique position on horror and comedy, while never feeling the need to pander to a generic narrative. Although for some audiences, this could easily be a negative rather than a selling point. Although the dress’ ethereal escapades escalate in violence, the uneven time dedicated to each storyline means the film never quite reaches the terrifying heights it aims for.
It’s an intimately hypnotic horror, accompanied by a psychedelic score infused with swirling synths and interruptive howls to keep viewers on their toes. In Fabric is a uniquely unsettling experience – but it might not be for everyone.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★ ★