Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Kevin Murphy described David Lynch’s Eraserhead best in his book, A Year At The Movies. “David Lynch has managed to do what few other filmmakers can accomplish: To present on film a dream, or in this case a nightmare.” Much like Lynch, director Peter Strickland has managed to do the same with his latest work, In Fabric.
The story is set in a vague time period of yesteryear South England during a busy season of winter and season of shopping. Women by the score are flocking to the department store known as Dentley & Soper for their extravagant and high-end clothes. The movie is split in two, with the first part following Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a down-on-her luck bank teller dealing with divorce, her rebellious son (Jaygann Ayeh), and his rude and sexually active girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie). Sheila finds herself attracted to D&S, and specifically, a gorgeous and hypnotic red dress that is sold to her by the curious and elegant clerk (Fatma Mohamed, a recurring actress in Strickland’s films). At first the dress seems to brighten Sheila’s mood, even being able to fit her despite being a size 36- what should be far too small for her. Strangeness follows as the dress makes the washer go haywire, attacks her son’s girlfriend, and causes a bizarre rash to appear upon her. With Sheila digging into the deadly history and roots of the dress and the fate of the model who wore it before her…
The second tale involves the dress ending up on nebbish washer repairman Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) for his stag party as he prepares to wed his betrothed, Jill (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Both spouses end up wearing the cursed crimson dress, and reap the horrors that come with it.
The movie is a visual force. While featuring more substance of character and dialogue than most surrealist horror fare, In Fabric features enough scenes of inexplicable and ambiguous terror to keep its dream logic and fantastical elements in tact. The influence of which is clearly Euro-Horror and the style of such directors like Dario Argento. Dentley & Soper featuring a neon rainbow of colors, from their clothesline to their bizarre commercials that feel like a cross between Halloween III‘s Silver Shamrock and Ken Russell’s Tommy. Explanations for the weirdness is few and far-between, but we’re all the better for it. There is no reason for a nightmare, you simply go along for the ride, which makes such seemingly innocuous things like a dress, a mannequin, or a washing machine scary as hell in the context.
The cast is brilliant as they either deal with, or are in some strange way a part of the madness of In Fabric. A personal favorite being the recurring scenes of bank managers Stash and Clive (The Mighty Boosh‘s Julian Barratt and Sightseers Steve Oram). They’re quirky and affable, and they don’t seem to have anything to do with the main horror of the story, yet there’s an overbearing element of menace behind their smiles and niceties. While the movie is split in part, there are threads that connect them, between characters and locations. I’d need to see it again just to try and put all the pieces together. The unifying thread of course being Dentley & Soper and their occultist staff. Fatma Mohamed’s clerk character leads a practical coven of fashionistas in bizarre and explicit rituals after hours. But as to their goals and origins, we are simply left to ponder what is the true evil nature of the store.
Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is definitely not for everyone. At two hours in runtime, the story rolls at a snail’s pace. But great in setting up and building on the tension. A scene of slicing vegetables had me on edge, wound up so high on tension. While there are no clear answers or explanation, it only makes the terror all the more visceral. Peter Strickland has taken a nightmare from his mind and put it on screen.