DIR/WRI: Patrick Strickland PRO: Andrew Starke ED: Matyas Fekete DOP: Ari Wegner MUS: Cavern of Anti-Matter CAST: Marianne Jean-Baptise, Gwendoline Christie, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohmed, Hayley Squires
Patrick Strickland’s film In Fabric takes on aspects of different genres combining thriller, horror and romance into a fantastically beguiling and eerie watch. At once stylish and disturbing, this film is as visually evocative as it is intriguing. While Marianne Jean-Baptiste excels as lonely, recently separated Sheila, the “artery” red dress that she buys also has a leading part to play. The film follows the journey of this dress as it wreaks havoc in the lives of those that are unfortunate enough to wear it. Interestingly, this dress does not possess it wearers – it has its own blood-thirsty agency. The film is highly symbolic and somewhat dreamlike – or more accurately nightmare-like. Reality blends with the bizarre and we are kept on our toes throughout as we watch the dress take on its victims.
In Fabric is set in 1980s London, taking place during the winter sales season. Dentley & Soper’s department store features as the hive of retail activity; demonstrating a time when in terms of consumerism high street stores still reigned supreme. Set against this backdrop, the experience of shopping within this film emerges as a transformative and transcendental experience. Indeed, the changing rooms are not changing rooms but “The Transformation Sphere”. Framing the purchasing experience in this light is achieved in both comical and somewhat creepy ways. For example, the sales assistants are dressed in glamorously gothic style, filling the ears of shoppers with fantastical statements.
The film alludes to the possible evils of consumerism but doesn’t appear to be an outright attack on capitalist culture. Instead, the evil here appears to function on a spiritual rather than a cultural level. The department store, its staff and the red dress seem to be connected with something that is cult-like, occult and satanic. We witness entrancing advertisements on television screens which show the employees posed as though readying themselves for some type of ceremony, beckoning for customers to enter the shop. Indeed this ritual is repeated every morning before the buyers are welcomed in. The fact that the dress is red is significant; a colour which is typically associated with evil, danger and the devil. However, the ambivalent tone persists in the film and we are left wondering about the true nature of what is going on until the very end.
While red is seen as the colour of evil it is also known as the colour of love and lust. On one level, the red dress is used as a means to find love for the characters in this film. Firstly with Sheila, it is bought for a blind date. It can be viewed as a potential tool to find love and quell loneliness. Following on from Sheila, Babs tries to re-spark her fiancées interest in her by asking how she looks in the dress. Reg is also forced to wear the dress on his stag night. What ties these three characters together is that wearing this dress represents something hopeful for each: for Sheila she might find someone, Babs wants to feel admired by her fiancée and Reg is celebrating his soon to be married life. However hopeful the characters might be, the love that is represented here is disappointing – the embarrassment of a bad blind date and the difficulty of living with a demanding fiancée show how impossible it can be to find true love. It is clear in this film that love is not the answer as each character is doomed from the moment the dress comes into their lives.
Structurally In Fabric could be viewed as a somewhat unsettling watch. Vested in the story of Sheila, the quick cut to the story of Babs and Reg is unexpected. These narratives have quite a different tone and while our interest has been with Sheila, their story feels a little dragged out in terms of pace. However, this demonstrates that the plot is revolving around the trajectory of the red dress rather than the human characters.
Conclusively, In Fabric is a disturbing yet colourful watch enhanced greatly by a good sprinkling of bizarre dark humour. Overall, the film has several unusual qualities which make it a memorable watch. It mixes genres so that there is suspense – but a slow seeping kind of suspense. The horrifying moments come in dribs and drabs; there’s blood but it’s not constant gore. Above all, this is a film rich in symbolism, with many shocks throughout; it’s overall ambiguity and many allusions leave viewers with much to ponder afterwards.
18 (see IFCO for details)
In Fabric is released 28th June 2019