Dress to Kill

‘In Fabric’, a Surreal Horror Film With a Deadly Wardrobe

“A purchase on the horizon? A panoply of temptation,” says a witchy retailer dressed in heavily embroidered funereal Victorian-era garb. Sure, the staff of Dentley & Soper’s feels like an Edward Gorey cartoon. But the prices are to die for!

The carnality of commerce gets its kinky due in Peter Strickland’s surreal horror film In Fabric, a fantastically weird immersion into fetishized consumerism. The British experimental director’s brief but brilliant filmography revels in a salacious ’70s movie aesthetic that recalls Italian Giallo films and French Emmanuelle movies. The plots aren’t paramount; his films’ real thrills come from the margins, with its fastidious production design and outrageous throwaway details. The wardrobes are always particularly evocative, so it’s no surprise that his latest outré fantasy centers around a demonic scarlet frock.

IN FABRIC ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Peter Strickland
Written by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Gwendoline Christie
Running time: 118 min


Dentley & Soper’s calls it an Ambassadorial Function Dress. “Candlelight glances, canapé conversations,” the accompanying catalogue blurb declares breathlessly, describing its bulb sleeves, dagger neckline, and artery-red color. “Be bold,” wild-eyed saleswoman Miss Luckmore (Fatma Mohammed) says to forlorn divorcée Sheila Woodchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). So Sheila says yes to the dress, as Miss Luckmore shoves the sales receipt into a pneumatic tube.

Sheila has a date that night with a man named Adonis, a lonelyheart listed in the Personal Ads right next to a self-described Huggable, malleable dermatologist. Maybe she should have picked the skin guy: Adonis insists on a Greek restaurant that accepts 10%-off coupons, and grumpily tosses a broken-stemmed rose at her when she arrives.

Back at her flat, son Vincent (Jaygann Ayeh) gets busy with his randy older girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie). She’s a towering goth who hangs out way too much and fucks loudly. She also inspires Vincent to draw obscene tableaux of small ritualistic men worshiping her brobdingnagian nether regions.

Her homestead is fraught, but Sheila’s teller job at Waingel’s Bank isn’t any better. Two weasely supervisors, Stash (Julian Barratt) and Clive (Steve Oram), keep chastising her for not having a meaningful enough handshake, waving at the boss’s mistress, and taking “mysterious toilet breaks before feeding time.” They also innocently propose hashing out the disputes in role-playing garb. She declines.

That In Fabric dress starts to pay off, though, as Sheila’s next boyfriend Zach (Barry Adamson) takes a shine to it. “It definitely shows you off,” he says with a smile. Too bad it also leaves a nasty rash on Sheila’s chest. And it floats around the house at night terrorizing everyone. And it nearly destroys her washing machine and inspires a German shepherd to attack her viciously. Blood flows. Otherwise, it’s perfect.

Our culture enslaves us, Strickland seems to be saying. We are all in thrall to the superficial. In Fabric is a bizarre nightmare where newborn babies flip the bird at their parents, store-window dummies have pubic hair, and TV ads shimmer with magnetic-tape abstraction. People fall into ecstatic trances when an appliance repairman recites passages from instruction manuals. And vegetables rot underneath cursed apparel. Any movie where changing rooms are referred to as The Transformation Sphere deserves mad props for such bonkers originality. “Such fascination of marvel,” says Miss Luckmore. To put it mildly.


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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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