P D Dawson
In Fabric - A Review
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Strickland's film, In Fabric, weaves a web of terror, weirdness and atmosphere, the way few other films do, or can. Part of the reason for this unique attribute lies in the unusual premise that a piece of material, in this case, a dress, could be haunted or at least imbued with some kind of evil incarnate. The premise reminded me a little of films like Carpenter's Christine or Spielberg's Duel. Still, those films at least feature animate objects such as cars and trucks, and the fact a dress could be evil and dangerous is so deliciously ridiculous and audacious, it almost creates an atmosphere all its own.
It begins with Sheila Woolchapel; a middle-aged single mother played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste. She is a bank clerk and is often ridiculed both in her home life and in her place of work. She lives with her teenage son and is frequently visited upon by his much older lover. Before going on a date, Sheila buys the ill-fated, artery-red dress from a department store called; Dently & Soper. The store is full of extraordinarily odd and subtly sinister characters, not least Miss Luckmore, the saleswoman who sells the dress and is a figure of intense yet understated madness.
After wearing the dress for the first time, Sheila suffers a nasty skin irritation in the shape of a black emblem embroidered on it. At night the dress also makes clanging noises in her wardrobe, and then a dog inexplicably bites her arm in the local park. Later as she recovers at home in bed, her son shows her that the dress has no tears from the attack. She decides to get rid of it, but without giving anything away, we then move on to the dress's next owner.
For me, the second part of the film was the strongest. Jean-Baptiste gives a necessarily subtle early performance, but rather strangely, the nerdy washing-machine repairman, Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) was a more compelling character. Reg's monotonous yet rhythmic washing machine jargon send us into a trance-like state where we become more complicit with the films bizarre premise. Opposites attract, and perhaps our only relatability with Reg is through the perfectly casted, Hayley Squires as his wife, Babs. She is the common ground from which the film jumps to another level of madness and profundity. Through her eyes more than any other, we see this film for the beautiful and weird symphony it is. We also care for her, yet by this point, know the sinister capabilities of the dress.
From the surreal and mundane world of Lynch to the vivid and contrasting palette of Argento, there is strong evidence of those influencers here, yet Strickland paints a canvas all his own. He creates a nightmarish world in which nothing is impossible, and everything is fair game. And instead of spilling over into a climax from which we can come down, he insists on leaving us with a sinister hum that persists long after the film's credits have rolled.