LFF 2018: In Fabric Review
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Peter Strickland creates a literal phantom thread in his giallo infused fourth feature film, which is also his strangest to date. He sticks to the retro formula that made The Duke of Burgundy such an enchanting experience with two short tales that are both admiring of the traditional department store experience and disdainful of retail’s ability to seduce. In Fabric is also Strickland's funniest film so far, consistently delivering deadpan humour in the most British of styles.
It seems like an age since we last saw Marianne Jean-Baptiste starring in a leading role in a British film and it’s a delight to see her again as recent divorcee Sheila. She lives in a typical suburban home with her schoolboy son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh - who never once passes for a 16-year-old) who is in a relationship with an older woman called Gwen (Gwendoline Christie). Sheila is keen to meet someone new and finds herself at the Dentley & Soper Trusted Department Store where she is cajoled into buying a racy red dress for her first blind date.
The woman doing the convincing is the witch-like Miss Luckmoore (Fatman Mohamed), head of a small group of shop floor assistants who are managed by the ghoulish looking Mr. Lundy (Richard Bremner). Dressed head-to-toe in funeral black, they speak in a deliberate manner using elaborate phrasing and conduct a number of bizarre rituals behind the scenes with scantily clad mannequins (Mr. Lundy gets his rocks off to one of these in a scene that sits somewhere between funny, kitsch and utterly strange).
You wouldn’t expect Strickland to reveal who these people are running the store and he lives up to expectation. He makes it absolutely clear the red dress is possessed and destined to create misery for Sheila, and it appears, anyone who it comes into contact with. It’s a ridiculous idea that really shouldn’t work and even though Strickland plays the horror with the straightest of faces he encourages us to laugh along. All the while we never realise he’s gradually putting us under the same sort of hypnotic spell the characters in his film are falling victim to.
After Sheila’s struggles with the dress it moves on to a second story about an engaged couple planning their wedding. The same red dress now hangs in a charity shop before being bought for Reg’s (Leo Bill) stag do ahead of his marriage to Babs (Hayley Squires). Similar to Sheila's tale it teases ideas about identity and the transformation of our appearance and confidence through clothing, but its general weirdness gradually nudges that out of the way as once again the evil frock wreaks havoc.
The Cavern of Anti-Matter provide the 70s style synth score that sets an air of oddball mystery around the bizarre goings on of this haunted garment. The main problem with In Fabric - and it’s a film that certainly isn’t alone in this - are the throwback moments that ape the classic visual techniques of the genre. There is more than enough of Strickland’s own vision in there to feel like it's his film but this is ground he has covered before and these scenes feel overly contrived and uninteresting.
This is another Strickland fever dream that reaffirms what a wildly unique director he remains and one that few compare to in cinema today. You won't struggle to be seduced by its visual charms which will stay in your mind for some time after they have left your screen. It's the sort of film that gets into the very fabric of your imagination like an uninvited guest you want to leave yet secretly desire its company for a while longer.
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