In Fabric Review
The first sound effect in Peter Strickland’s bizarre new film - his best yet - is a switchblade knife flicking into position. Precise, with the promise of violence - emblematic of the English director’s signature stylings, and the perfect opener for this flamboyant, palette-bursting homage to the Giallo horror canon of the sixties and seventies.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Sheila, a divorced single mother working a behind-the-counter banking job by day and kept awake at night by her son, Vince (Jaygann Ayeh), and his girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie) by night. Looking to impress a prospective date, she purchases a dress (listed in the catalogue as ‘artery red’ with the cheekiest of winks) from a department store manned by witchlike assistants and a vampirish manager.
After a series of strange events - Sheila gets a nasty rash, her washing machine suffers a cruel fate, Vince and Gwen’s late night activities are invaded - it soon becomes apparent that ‘killer dress’ is no longer a euphemism. Its sinister inseam message “You who wear me will know me” perhaps requiring the suffix “very briefly”, the ghostly garment never makes a sound, floating and rippling eerily like the punctured bodies in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.
Yet the latest - and possibly last - addition to Sheila’s wardrobe is but a single component of In Fabric’s gorgeously weird world. From unsettling infomercials to the unspeakable rituals undertaken by the store staff after hours, it’s a wonderful cavalcade of alternate-history 60s design infused with a tantric score from Cavern of Anti-Matter.
Combining the central concerns of Berberian Sound Studio (blood) and The Duke of Burgundy (bondage), In Fabric feels very much a trilogy closer, if not in thematic terms but in its preference for sheer entertainment over mood-building - the stage has been set, now Strickland gets to play in it with all the splatter and sex he could possibly want.
His devotion to the role of sound in film is clearer than ever here: not that one assumes to know a director’s YouTube watch history, but you can bet your bottom dollar there’s some ASMR in there. Every nervous gulp, every rustle of satin, every scrape of a clothing hanger upon its rusted rail is designed and edited to skin-crawling perfection - the surreal has never felt so tangible.
While the sound design speaks its piece loud and clear, the deeper structures of the screenplay remain - perhaps deliberately - obtuse. Why do the shopkeepers speak with such unnerving verbosity? How do the mannequins bear such realistic anatomy? What’s up with Steve Oram and Julian Barratt as two grinningly matter-of-fact bank managers?
Beyond these unanswered questions, this critic had two prevailing thoughts: cult film distributor Arrow Video will release a ludicrously comprehensive re-issue of this thirty years from now, and - if the audience reaction of my particular screening is a reliable sample - In Fabric will surely be the oddest crowdpleaser to hit cinemas this year. When the Met Gala invited ‘Camp’ for this year’s theme, this is what they meant.
In Fabric opens in UK cinemas on June 28.