Peter Strickland’s In Fabric debuted on the festival circuit over a year ago, but don’t consider it out of fashion. This delightfully sinister art-house horror flick is very much en vogue. (Killer men in hockey masks are so last season.) A tale of a killer dress, In Fabric is a dazzlingly stylish affair that’s a cut above the rest. Say yes to the dress!
The evil threads in In Fabric unleash their terror on middle-aged divorcée Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) when she decides to get back on the dating scene. She visits a bizarre department store where the salesperson, Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed), sounds to be selling a cult as she ensnares vulnerable shoppers with promises of fulfilment. Sheila admittedly looks fabulous in the crimson red dress that Miss Luckmoore chooses especially for her. The dress, a size 36, slims down Sheila. She looks years younger. She exudes sexy confidence.
But as with all good things in horror movies, the dress aims to take Sheila’s soul. It eats away at her and leaves nasty rashes as it feeds off her beauty. Things go bump in the night. The dress slinks around the house. It floats in the air like a possessed beast or an animal hunting its prey. It’s a kinky voyeur as it spies on Sheila’s fully-grown son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) and his vulgar mistress Gwen (Gwendoline Christie) as its erotically charged red hue lights up the houses whenever they get it on. The dress is a scintillating killer that’s somehow more expressive than most human horror villains are. The more Sheila’s dating adventures prove successful, the less she needs the dress for fulfillment. Jealous, it seeks retribution, as all good dresses do, and gets even with Sheila for considering others a better fit.
The dress provides a playfully evil metaphor for consumer culture as it explores the terror wrought on Sheila and company. Its origin, Dentley and Soper’s department store, is a coven for materialism. Miss Luckmoore and her ilk seduce the clientele with consumer culture catchphrases, flattery, and feel-good mystique. But there’s no escaping the fact that this wigged-out witch understands that humans are under the spell of material things. The dress embodies our desire to seek fulfillment through material things. This dangerous habit eats away at the very fabric of society.
However, Strickland fashions his story in a two-piece when a onesie might be a better fit. Peter Strickland’s In Fabric offers a two-act structure in which the dress wreaks havoc on a second family when Sheila passes it on to a new victim. When the dress invades the home of Reg (Leo Bill) and his fiancée Babs (Hayley Squires), though, Strickland mostly repeats points made in the first act.
The stronger opening half of the film also raises the themes of consumerism, possession, and exploitation with greater gusto. Reg’s story mostly serves as a sounding board for the considerations arise more subtly in the first act. Miss Luckmoore playful parables on capitalism become blunt thematic hammers. Even as a feat of horror, comedy, and style, the novelty of In Fabric loses steam in the second act. Strickland redeems it with a flat-out bonkers ending that is a loonier descent into madness than any Italian master of horror might have conjured.
Strickland (Berbarian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy) delivers a film that would make Dario Argento proud. Giallo cinema endures in In Fabric as Strickland goes over the top with full-blooded reds and splat-and-chuckle mayhem. Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is a macabre feast for the senses. The pitch-perfect off-kilter humour is no off-the-rack trick. Much of In Fabric’s black humour lives in the performances by Jean-Baptiste and Mohamed. They seem to be having lots of fun playing seamstresses with this wicked design. In Fabric is the work of tailor who know how to fashion material to the best of its abilities. One wishes Strickland brought out the scissors a bit more for In Fabric. But it’s hard to chide the bottom of an outfit when the top is so fabulously great.
In Fabric opens in Toronto on December 6.