By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Fatma Mohamed and Gwendoline Christie
Written and Directed by Peter Strickland
Peter Strickland is a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. He was first noticed in a major way for 2012’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, a film that put us into the sound design studio for a giallo which would have shaken Argento himself. Then, we had 2014’s THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, which showed the intricate and occasionally problematic details of the relationship between two power-conscious lovers. The wait for Strickland’s latest magnum opus is over, and IN FABRIC is what he has gifted us.
While BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO transitioned from being about a horror film into being an actual horror film, IN FABRIC stands firmly within the genre. That said, there is far more humour injected into this film than his previous but, make no mistake, this is no horror comedy. Rather, IN FABRIC seems aware of the absurdity of its premise and has fun playing with the lighter aspects of it, without shying away from terror.
The premise is simple: a haunted dress. Boom. The always pitch-perfect Marianne Jean-Baptiste is Sheila, the first owner of said dress. She is a divorced mum who has a thankless job as a bank teller. Inspired by her son’s dating habits, she follows suit by putting a personal ad in the lonely hearts section of her local newspaper. But before she gets out there, she needs the perfect date dress. The whole town is preoccupied with the post-holiday sales and she decides to take advantage and get a new frock from one local department store. After being pressured by a very peculiar salesperson (Fatma Mohamed, a Strickland regular) Sheila takes home a stunning red dress that is unlike anything she would usually wear. The first date in the dress is an awkward one (aren’t they all?) and she is left with an unusual rash on her chest. Might that be from the dress itself?
From here we see how this dress begins to control her life, and affect her son and his girlfriend too. The various other owners suffer a similar fate as the tyrannical grip that the dress holds over its wearers is revealed.
Being a Strickland film, the simplicity of the plot does not impair stunning visual language of its many characters. We get to see our peculiar salesperson and her coworkers off and on throughout the film, and their backstory has enough intrigue to fill volumes. They are certainly speaking English, but their phrasing and curt dismissals are more reminiscent of Shakespearean insults than contemporary conversation. There is also a later subplot regarding the hypnotic effect of washing machine repairs. This surreal bend enhances the dreamlike world of the film and lets the audience know that they are undoubtedly watching the work of a master filmmaker.
Horror seems to have a preoccupation with haunted houses and possessed dolls. With IN FABRIC, we have the rare entry into a haunted garment subgenre, and it is a treasure.