A clever take on the psychological-horror genre where the most sinister thing is a piece of cloth, but it is not tight enough to truly enthrall.
Dir. Peter Strickland
2018 | UK | Drama/Horror | 118 mins | 2.35:1 | English
R21 (passed clean) for strong sexual content including a scene of aberrant behavior, and some bloody images
Cast: Gwendoline Christie, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Plot: A haunting ghost story set against the backdrop of a busy winter sales period in a department store and follows the life of a cursed dress as it passes from person to person, with devastating consequences.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
International Sales: Bankside Films
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed as part of Singapore Film Society screening)
For some time, British filmmaker Peter Strickland has been quietly making features, but In Fabric might be the film that would finally reach a larger audience of cinephiles. A high-concept work that operates within the familiar boundaries of psychological horror, In Fabric is not just a clever take on the genre but also our collective obsession with rituals.
A story about a red dress that haunts every new owner as it is bought, returned, and bought again from a departmental store manned by strange people, Strickland’s film milks the most of its simple premise, but realises also that it can only go so far in terms of storytelling and narrative structure. (Side-track: cinephiles may draw allusions of the red dress to Nicolas Roeg’s even more disquieting Don’t Look Now (1973)).
Which is partly why the film relies heavily on montage and sound design to evoke a kind of uncanny ‘70s feel, so as to mitigate its structural issues. There’s a sense of rich atmosphere, and a number of scenes do feel unsettling, including one involving a mannequin and sexual pleasure.
“Did the transaction validate your paradigm of consumerism?”
Strickland’s aim is to provoke us to think more about the rituals (perverse or otherwise) that have consumed us—well, consumerism is certainly an obvious point, but digging deeper, it’s really about the ritual of life i.e. the motions we go through to find a sense of purpose, societal expectations we have to heed, etiquettes that we must follow, etc.
In this regard, Strickland’s work tries to blow them all apart, like the washing machine in the film that literally spins out of control. Unfortunately, the film goes on a tad too long and isn’t tight enough to truly enthrall.
The main issue is that Strickland seems to have invested too much emotionally (and a fair bit of the film’s duration) into the ‘first victim’, that when it transits into the next, it feels as if things need to start all over again e.g. the setup, characterisation and building of emotional stakes.
In Fabric is strong in the first hour or so, but while it sees out the plotting, including twists and turns, reasonably (and in style), it can get rather tedious in the long stretch.