In Fabric (2018)
Written & Directed by Peter Strickland
It’s difficult to determine when and where we are during In Fabric. This intentional disorientation helps add to the sense of the eerie and unsettling. The commercials on television are drenched in a 1970s hue, music synthesized and distorted. Yet at home, our characters appear to be living contemporary lives. The location is a fictional city of Thames Valley on Thames which may be rural or metropolitan. The adverts for Dentley & Soper’s department store are stylized occult rituals, the owner and his staff of mesmerized attendants invoking the customer to come and buy from their holiday sale.
In Fabric accomplishes a task the recent It: Chapter Two failed miserably at which is successfully weaving humor and horror. While the Stephen King adaptation did great at adding fun to its story, it never correctly balances the horror and trauma of its characters. In Fabric embraces the ridiculous nature of its premise (a killer dress) but still manages to present gorgeously framed moments that are deeply unsettling. The dress hovering over its owner while she sleeps, an unseen wind lightly ruffling the bottom edges lingers in the mind long after. A killer dress is silly as an idea but appropriately executed can be something terrifying because it defies what we understand about the nature of reality.
The world of In Fabric is not ours, and it becomes evident as our protagonist Shelia moves through life, recently divorced and using a send by mail and phone dating service. When a prospective suitor sets up dinner at a local Greek restaurant, Sheila heads over to Dentley & Soper’s for the perfect dress. Miss Luckmore, the witchy employee that services Shelia talks in a strange mystic grammar that our main character doesn’t seem to notice but the audience will most certainly be amused and disturbed by. Later, we meet a washing machine repairman whose dull, monotonous recitation of the appliance’s problems induces an orgasmic trance on whoever overhears. While this is all entirely out of left field for us, the characters inside this world see it all as perfectly usual.
Strickland is putting across a sly satire on capitalism by focusing on the religiosity and cultish-ness its most fervent advocates put forward about the economic system. Miss Luckmoore knows that the scarlet dress she forces upon Shelia is cursed, responsible for the untimely death of the model who wore it in the store catalog during an incident at a zebra crossing (reads a briefly glimpsed newspaper headline). Yet, the ritual of the department store sale forces Luckmore into foisting this item on whomever she can. When Sheila tries to return the item after tolerating a gauntlet of horrors it is up to the store owner Mr. Lundy, a comically obvious sorcerer, is aghast and essentially explains that a return would be blasphemy against such a sacred consecration.
In Fabric never gets pedantic in its themes and knows that it wants to have fun and be silly more than anything else. The biggest flaw of the film is the third act where our narrative suddenly switches to a collection of new characters. It is disorienting like the other parts of the movie but in a much less satisfying way. Eventually, the story loops back so we understand the connection between the paths, but while we’re getting there, I really drifted away from the film. Part of it feels like we are suddenly watching a short movie set in the same universe that leaves behind almost every character from the first two-thirds of the picture. Despite all of that, In Fabric is a very satisfying picture with a wickedly enjoyable dark sense of humor.