Over the decades, there have been some ludicrous premises for horror movies, especially with the rise of B-movies, and Peter Strickland's In Fabric offers another in the form of a killer dress. But while such a premise could lend itself more to B-movie thrills, Strickland takes his film in a different direction, channelling elements of Italian giallo films of the 70s for a more stylistic approach to horror. Considering the subject matter, In Fabric also touches on themes and criticisms of consumer capitalism through the lens of a odd department store from which the killer dress is purchased. In Fabric weaves a bizarre, atmospheric horror tale of a killer dress in a commentary on consumer capitalism that has far more style than substance.
The movie follows multiple people who encounter the dress, including recently divorced Sheila Woodchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who purchases the garment from department store Dently and Soper's with the help of store clerk Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed). However, strange occurrences being to plague Sheila, her son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) and his girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie). Eventually, the dress passes to soon-to-be married couple Babs (Hayley Squires) and Reg (Leo Bill), though the strange occurrences continue with the dress's new owners. But while some, like Sheila, become convinced of the evil of the dress, it remains to be seen if any of those who don the frock will be able to escape its killer tendencies.
Strickland pulls double duty on In Fabric, serving as the film's writer and director. This gives the auteur much more control over how the film comes to life, and Strickland's deliberate choices are notable throughout the entire movie. There's an obvious level of care put into every aspect of In Fabric, from the way in which Miss Luckmoore speaks to the way the characters are framed on camera. Strickland clearly has a very specific filmmaking voice, drawing on inspiration from giallo films of the past and adapting the style to his story. And, above all else, it's the style and atmosphere where Strickland puts his attention, fostering a unique movie experience - but one that will not appeal to everyone. To be sure, the film's focus on style will leave some viewers frustrated, while others may revel in the creepy atmosphere In Fabric cultivates.
In terms of the film's stars, Mohamed is delightfully offbeat as the mysteriously weird department store clerk Miss Luckmoore, giving a performance that's creepy and off-kilter. On the other end of the spectrum, Mohamed's Miss Luckmoore is balanced by the more grounded, realistic performance of Jean-Baptiste as Sheila. The juxtaposition of Miss Luckmoore's strange store clerk to the unremarkably normal Sheila provides for some fun in the film, though it may also come off as just plain weird. Still, when the latter half of In Fabric is carried more by Squires and Bell, it loses some of the magic brought by Mohamed and Jean-Baptiste. They're still compelling to watch, but In Fabric suffers a bit by this change in direction. Altogether, though, In Fabric is undoubtedly helped by the deft performances of its lead actors.
Ultimately, In Fabric may be too difficult or downright bizarre for general moviegoers. Certainly, those interested in giallo films of the past or in broadening their horizons with an atypical horror movie could find enjoyment in Strickland's movie. The style and atmosphere the auteur creates provides an entirely unique experience, especially in a movie theater that emphasizes the sound design of In Fabric. But audiences without a deep knowledge of giallo films may feel bewildered by In Fabric and many of the choices Strickland makes in terms of its story and visuals, to the point that the movie becomes inaccessible to those viewers.
That said, potential moviegoers already interested in Strickland's work or who were intrigued by the trailers for In Fabric will no doubt have a more enjoyable experience, knowing what to expect going in. Those on the fence or who don't know much about the movie, though, should be able to wait and give the film a shot after it's available to watch at home. While there's no doubt a benefit to seeing a movie that challenges your perception of film, or introduces you to something new within cinema, In Fabric may not be it.
In Fabric is now playing in select U.S. theaters. It is 118 minutes long and rated R for strong sexual content including a scene of aberrant behavior, and some bloody images.
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- In Fabric (2019) release date: Dec 06, 2019