The red dress of Peter Strickland’s In Fabric could represent anything: the toxic lure of consumerism, the superficial coveting of beauty, the dangerous mystique of unattainable glamour. Or, it could represent nothing at all. There’s every chance it’s just a spooky, magical killer dress.
Strickland revels in this playfulness, shifting between potent metaphor and gleeful meaninglessness. His commitment to the elusive, disturbing and absurd is irrepressibly appealing, and carries his feature to success even in less effective stretches which could sink a less convincing, less committed production.
Cousin to its director’s 2012 spellbinder Berberian Sound Studio, the film shares a host of properties with its predecessor – an ancestry in the Italian giallo horror classics, a striking colour palette steeped in dripping “artery” red (as the dress is described in an onscreen catalogue – one of many impeccable design flourishes that Strickland deploys), and an oppressive sense of dread.
In Fabric adds knowing shading to that dread, though, with a sickening, thoroughly British sense of humour – delivered to immediate effect by a host of Brit telly mainstays such as Julian Barratt, Gwendoline Christie and Steve Oram. The queasy intermingling of hilarity and terror recalls League of Gentlemen in its balance and assurance.
This morbid carnival show belongs, however, to two key players: Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s unsuspecting Sheila is stark in her modest normality compared to her showier co-stars and provides a sturdy centre, while Fatma Mohamed devours scenery with a supernatural gluttony in her performance as a spectral department store attendant, sharing more than a little in her aura with Bela Lugosi’s definitive Dracula.
A scimitar-sharp screenplay and a solid sense of visual identity make In Fabric a sumptuously delectable ride that stays the course nobly even when a mid-feature gear change threatens to derail the whole thing.
CAST: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt, Gwendoline Christie, Steve Oram, Fatma Mohamed
DIRECTOR: Peter Strickland
WRITER: Peter Strickland
SYNOPSIS: A haunting ghost story set against the backdrop of a busy winter sales period in a department store, In Fabric follows the life of a cursed dress as it passes from person to person with devastating consequences.