Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Marianne Jean–Baptiste, Fatma Mohamed, Leo Bill, Hayley Squires, Gwendoline Christie, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram
Words – Nathan Scatcherd
The latest film from Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy), In Fabric is a wonderful oddity – bizarre, horny, blackly hilarious in tone and one of my favourite cinema experiences so far this year. This is the only movie I’ve ever seen to deal with both an evil dress and the trancelike power of washing machine maintenance, two things I never knew I needed in my cinematic diet until Strickland gave them to me.
The plot focuses initially on Sheila (Jean-Baptiste, immensely likeable in her embodiment of quiet, tired decency), a lonely single mother who comes across a striking red dress. The dress seems perfect… almost too perfect.
Sure enough, it soon transpires that there’s something very wrong with not only the dress itself – which seems to cause serious harm to anyone who comes into contact with it – but also the department store it came from, or more specifically, the offputtingly creepy staff who work there and appear to be involved in… well, something Not Good.
Fatma Mohamed is an absolute delight as the wilfully obtuse, cryptic saleswoman who assures Sheila that “your date will compliment you” as she almost forces the dress into poor Sheila’s hands.
Not to give any more specific plot details, the narrative is less single-minded and more meandering than it first appears, with a midpoint turn plunging proceedings into even stranger and more tantalising places.
In Fabric is a tonal miracle, managing to balance offbeat horror, ‘Euro-trash’ inspired sleaze and absurd comedy in a way which feels completely organic and keeps things captivatingly unpredictable. There are moments here which are genuinely funny even as you get the sense that something terrible is going on just underneath the surface. It also features some of the best sound design I’ve heard all year (Strickland mentioned during a Q&A screening that he is interested in ASMR, a phenomenon which personally fills me with a kind of nebulous, vague anxiety; this works to excellent effect here).
The film has been compared to giallo cinema if only in terms of visual style, and while there is certainly a valid comparison to be made there, the overall effect is more as if a British kitchen sink drama stumbled into some dark corner of the universe and ended up melding with a Lynchian fever dream.
It is an utter delight.