In Fabric is a hypnotic dream which is turned into a nightmare by a red dress.
In Fabric is one of the weirdest films this decade brought forth. It’s a film not made for a big audience but the haunting dress isn’t either. The film doesn’t explain itself easily, it’s a film you’ll have to ponder over to get even a glimpse of what it might mean.
Though beautifully shot, the cinematography is a real piece of art, as is the music and results in a hypnotic dreamlike atmosphere, it can be a bit elusive. The story somewhat falls behind, though it is not a matter of style over substance per se. The substance is far more complicated to understand or feel at a first look, but eventually this film might win you over, even if it’s weird and inexplicable.
Sheila is a single mother of a grown up son Vince, who has been mooching of his mother, sides with his father and his new girlfriend Gwen who disrespects his mother. Sheila has a job at the bank, wants to find love, which she time after time fails at by meeting the wrong men, and decides to buy herself a new dress for a new date.
The saleswoman in the department store, Miss Luckmoore a strange looking creature and speaking in weird off kilter sentences which she conjures up like a fortuneteller in an almost hypnotizing way, sells her a red dress. But there is something off with the dress. Firstly it gives Sheila a weird rash, then it makes the washing machine run wild, later a dog attacks her and it finally comes out a night to float in the hallway. It’s the beginning of a haunting tale about a dress. And Sheila will not be her last victim.
Why you should watch it
This film is not for everyone. With a beautiful cinematography, a stylish Giallo like feel, and a retro vibe it is a story about a dress. The dress is the subject of the film. It is her story that is been told, asides from the other main characters. But it’s a symbol as well.
It is therefore not simply a style over substance film, but the story can be a little incoherent. We are set to focus on a person, the main characters, what drives them, why things happen to them, but they aren’t necessarily the most important characters. To fully appreciate this film you’ll have to think of the dress as the main character, the people are just the means to tell the story of the dress, they act out the symbolism what the dress stands for. The dress drives the plot and tells us about some people whom it meets on her way from department store to closet or worse.
We follow two different families, Sheila’s and Reg’s, touched by this dress, and not in a good way. It is filmed in an humorous, absurd and yet visceral style that is terrifyingly creepy and funny at the same time. It’s one of the weirdest stories you’ll ever see but with such a great style created, that it is as nice and crafty made and hypnotizing as the dress itself.
But style it certainly does have. It is very hypnotizing, stylish and gorgeous to look at. It makes it a very interesting horror, for it still is a horrifying tale. All these cinematic gimmicks are representatives for the dress itself and are recurring motives in the film. For example the clothing Luckmoore wears is a stunning baroque gothic dream, and the commercial from the department store Dentley and Soper’s is absolutely wonderfully weird as hell, as is their little hell itself.
The humor is absurd and weird, especially the two bank managers Stan and Clive who have two different talks with both Sheila and Reg, which take a very absurd turn.
But the humor comes from the strange dreams Sheila, Reg and Babs have as well. Surreal, scary and horrifying, but absurd. Dreams they have about their fears just before their own demise.
Last but not least the masturbation scene with the mannequin from the store is something you have never seen before, nor will probably ever see again. It’s the epiphany of a fetish for clothes and the sensual feeling one gets when wearing beautiful sexy clothes. But again, weird and awkward and very uncomfortable.
My favorite part
Sheila, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste steals every shot she’s in. She is very relatable even if you’re not divorced or a woman even, she represents the things we all want. We want children/a family who love and respect us. We want love from a partner, we want to feel appreciated at work, and feel pretty and whole. She is so normal in an abnormal film, and has a subtle comical style about her, but when you start thinking there’s nothing funny about her life. But it gives us a chance to laugh at our own simple unfulfilled lives, it funny but sad.
The scene with the washing machine is also absurdly funny. Like the dress the washing machine comes to life in a frightened way trying to get rid of the evil dress. Or maybe the dress wants to get out and destroys the machine. The way two lifeless objects react to each other and come to life in a natural way is arty humor. If that isn’t weird enough for you, Reg the washing machine repair man, can also make his clients fully absorbed by him, by summing up what’s wrong with it or how to repair it, which results in a hypnotic fetish, mesmerizing his clients.
Finally the last scene in which all the customers in the department store get into a huge brawl, fighting over clothes like it is Black Friday is hilarious and yet so pathetic, and filmed in a slapstick style.
Fun factor: ★★★★☆
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
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Cast and crew
In Fabric is directed and written by Peter Strickland. It stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Sheila), Fatma Mohamed (Miss Luckmoore), Leo Bill (Reg), Gwendoline Christie (Gwen), Hayley Squires (Babs), Jaygann Ayeh (Vince), Barry Adamson (Zach), Julian Barratt (Stash), Steve Oram (Clive) and Richard Bremmer (Mr. Lundy).
Duration: 118 minutes. Music: Cavern of Anti-Matter. Cinematography: Ari Wegner. Edited by: Matyas Fekete. Produced by: Andrew Starke. Production companies: Rook Films, BBC Films, BFI Film Fund, Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology. Distributed by: Curzon Artificial Eye, A24.