In Fabric Review: Say yes to this hypnotizing and hilarious film about a killer dress
A24’s newest film from the mind of writer/director Peter Strickland, In Fabric, takes viewers on a hilariously creepy joy-ride through the mysterious events that surround a gorgeous red dress.
With Black Friday just passing and kicking off the holiday shopping season, the film takes a perfectly satirical and satanical approach to the shopping season with its luxurious department store setting and over the top employees. There’s something so oddly alluring about the film’s recurring location of the Dentley and Soper’s department store with it being beautifully designed and filled with creepy and incredibly interesting workers. As the main store clerk, Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed), completely steals the show with her delivery of the hilariously over-complicated dialogue that we’ve all heard before and off-kilter personality that takes herself so seriously you can’t help but laugh. It’s such a perfectly satirical performance that not only brings out the perfect number of laughs from viewers, but also makes them shudder with how off-putting she can be.
Honestly the entire store has this glossy, yet eerie vibe to it that’s very entrancing. From the way that Miss Luckmore and the rest of her similar looking co-workers treat the mannequins and clothes they sell to the way that people are literally fighting to get into the store, there’s just something so off about the store as a whole that makes you more invested as it’s secret start to be revealed. As the film starts to peel back it’s curtain, the film pure exploration of the hypnotically weird elements that surround its main location is both intriguingly horrifying and little tough to follow. Now, I’m not against a movie being “too weird” or anything like that and, to the film’s credit, everything creepy and unnerving that happens with the department store workers is so effective and strange that I’ll probably never be able to look at store mannequins the same way ever again. However, the film kind of just leaves what and who they exactly are open and that could leave some viewers a little unsatisfied. Personally, the openness of everything is kind of what makes In Fabric such a fascinating watch – especially with its haunting red dress.
While we’ve seen haunted red cars and killer tomatoes, you’ve never seen anything like In Fabric’s cursed red dress. It’s both elegant as it flows in an enchanted fashion and creepy in the ways that it shifts to be a deadly and daunting foe. The red dress is the perfect of “B-movie” foe that’s given the seriousness and silliness to make every viewer crack a smile every time things seem a little off with it. It’s beautifully mystical at times and it’s such a strong supernatural foe that actually carries some meaning about the power we put onto clothes. Not to mention, it’s a great central item that nicely stitches together the two main plot threads.
The film’s two stories follow two unlucky patrons that come across the dress and suffer some strange happenings that stem from the dress’ cursed past. The first story follows Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a lonely divorcee who is drawn to the red dress when she enters the department store and begins to get strange vibes about it when mysterious things start happening. Jean-Baptiste really makes Sheila’s loneliness believable and easy to connect to as her hunt for a new partner leads her to unappreciative men. Not to mention, her son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) and his intimidating girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie) make life harder for her with their incredibly sexual relationship and lack of respect for her. The other story, that of washing-machine repairman Reg (Leo Bill) as he lacks a sense of confidence and spark.
Even with the differences in Sheila and Reg’s stories and issues, the two are connected through the red dress and have similarities and differences that end up creating a more mind-bending and hilarious experience. From the insane lengths that Vince and Gwen’s sexual relationship goes and how graphic it is to how Reg talking about washing machine issues puts people in this sexual trance, there’s a lot of great dark comedy that sewn into In Fabric’s story. There’re also two great comedic performances from Steve Oram and Julian Barratt as Clive and Stash, respectively, as they hilariously berate both Sheila and Reg for nonsensical things. They’re easily the strongest part of the film’s funny bone and work off each other really well. There’re also some great similarities in their stories with them both containing strange dreams that have some horrifying imagery and some strong moments with dress slowly showing its power on them. Even the end is surprising in how horrifying it is and plays perfectly into mix of horror and comedy that Strickland has infused into the film.
Where In Fabric is at its finest, though, is when Strickland expertly utilizes sound design to make viewers feel as if they are in a trance and sucks them further into the film’s weird world. The silky synth score from Cavern of Anti-Matter is one of my favorites of the year and creates chills down viewer’s spines every time it kicks in. It’s also well-utilized in filling the entire sound of the film and when matched with the hypnotizing imagery of the film, it’s a deadly combination that hooks and hypnotizes viewers into everything happening on-screen. Strickland also does a great job utilizing sound to help build the tension of a scene. For instance, there’s a moment where the silent tension between Gwen and Sheila playing a board game is slowly ramped up through the dress destroying the washing machine in the background. Even the cinematography from Ari Wegner is striking and the color palette is just plain fabulous. The only thing I didn’t dig too much were the rapid transitions that Strickland includes as they don’t add much to the film and just felt like an excuse to have lackluster jump scares.
Through its strong execution of its concept, In Fabric turns its “B-movie” of a killer dress running amok into a hilariously dark film that’s among the best horror films as well as one of the best films in general. It’s highly entertaining from start to finish and offers a mesmerizing and hypnotizing visual style that’s unlike anything else. All I can say is, say yes to this dress and see it.