In Fabric

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Peter Strickland's In Fabric, stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste
"You might not think you're in the mood for buying, but his extravagant sales pitch is likely to win you over by the end." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Like the dusty and odd department store Dentley & Soper’s that acts as a focal point of his film, Peter Strickland's latest could be viewed as a sort of emporium, a beautifully appointed establishment selling strange sensations and oddly satisfying moments. You might not think you're in the mood for buying, but his extravagant sales pitch is likely to win you over by the end.

Nothing is quite how it should be. Split into two halves, both hinging on a cursed killer dress, initially sold by the store - even that gives the film an off-kilter edge for those more familiar with the three-tale style of anthology films. Further fuelling the sense of dislocation is In Fabric's odd time-shifting quality, it's colours redolent of Seventies Giallo and its harpsichord-inflected score by Cavern of Anti-Matter recalling that decades The Persuaders, while episodes in a bank make it more obviously an early Nineties affair, when pre-smartphone blind dating held more mystique than simply swiping right.

Strickland flirts with reality in such a way that the weirder escapes here seem all the more odd, its blackly comic undergarments rustling in a way that's reminiscent of producer Ben Wheatley's films (in particular Sightseers, with which this would make a fun double bill).

Take Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who should be getting a damn sight more juicy movie roles like this), for instance. She's the sort of woman that the words down to earth could have been made for. A bank clerk of a certain age, whose husband has left her for another woman, she's besieged in her own home by her teenage son Vince's (Jaygann Ayeh) vampish girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie) - "She's turning my home into a boudoir" - and faces questions from her employers (Clive Oram and Julian Barratt enjoying a creepily comedic double-act) over the adequacy of her handshake. She pins her hopes on the dating game - which is how, following a trip to Dentley & Sopers and an encounter with the borderline vampiric Miss Luckmore (Fatma Mohamed), she comes into possession of the devilish dress.

You miss her when she's gone, too soon it feels, her character so well realised you could have spent a whole film with her. She's replaced by Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) a hapless washing machine repairman with a surprising way with words, who is bullied into wearing the dress on his stag night. His fiance Babs (Hayley Squires) - one of many who finds Reg literally entrancing - will also come to fall under the spell of the dress, which is the sort of clothing item we might all dream about, effortlessly matching itself to the curves of different occupants.

Strickland's ideas might never coalesce into what might be called an argument - the cult of capitalism a mere ornament, horror ideas about what really might happen in the basement of Dentley & Soper's not much more than a passing fancy - but the constant splashes of ink black humour and the tactile and amped up sensory nature of the film hold pleasures of their own. From the playfulness Strickland displays with deliberately ornate language of Miss Luckmore and the surprisingly sensual effect Reg's litany of washing machine foibles has on his audience, to the deliberately hypnotic visuals employed in an advertisement for Dentley & Soper's, this is a film that fetishizes the fetish in all its forms.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2018
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Two stories about a cursed dress and its victims.


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