In Fabric (2018)
Peter Strickland is known for such unusual and, in some way, brave films as “Berberian Sound Studio” (2012) and “The Duke of Burgundy” (2014). In “In Fabric”, he takes his boldness and unconventionality to a whole new level and crafts a film which is an eerie ghost story involving a dress on the one hand, and a critique of consumerism with much humour, weirdness and some shock thrown into it, on the other. Can horror and comedy, and a consumerism critique and a ghost premise be fused together successfully? Strickland thinks they can, and, probably, only he can pull off such a mix of premises without a film becoming a disaster. The story here is that a woman, Sheila, stumbles upon a gorgeous, silky red dress, without realising that it is possessed by a ghost of a woman who modelled it before. Sheila goes on a blind date wearing the dress, but also develops a strange rash after wearing it. Then, the ghostly dress ends up in the hands of a mechanic and his girlfriend, while also having evil intentions. In the meantime, in the department store that sold the dress, strange, shocking rituals take place, with sales assistants knowing the power of the dress only too well not to want to have it back. The plot may sound a bit ludicrous and not everything works there, but it is the film’s aesthetics, music and colour, its feel of the 1970s decade, recalling Italian giallo movies, and its strange humour which all work best.
One of the film’s objectives is to establish a ghost story involving the dress that brings trouble to its wearers, for example, it has the tendency to wreck washing machines, while another objective is to point out some nonsensicalities of consumerism, employment culture and even dating scene. While the former premise is more or less intriguing, it works slightly worse than the latter premise which is designed to ridicule people who are obsessed with the latest fashion trends to their detriment. Company culture and working environment also get their share of smacking by Strickland. For example, at one point, Sheila is being interrogated by her work superiors who tell her that there are rumours that she does not shake hands properly with customers upon greeting, and that she may practice this essential routine at home. The absurdity of this situation hardly needs elaboration. The film has more humorous scenes than one would expect, and it is really interesting to see how it tries to maintain the façade of seriousness while it clearly unveils some of the most preposterous situations ever.
On the negative side, a number of sub-plots and minor characters do not fit well into the story, and, although the acting of the lead actresses is very good, the acting done by some others feels like it is good enough only for some local day-time TV series, than a major film. However, “In Fabric” still culminates on a high note, while offering some insight into mysterious and morbid workings of the unseen and unsuspected in the consumer world.
“In Fabric”, which competed in the recent London Film Festival for the Best Picture award, has to be applauded for a risky approach it takes, as well as for its cinematographic vision, which has its own peculiar aesthetics, reminding of low-budget film extravaganzas of the past. Its director must also be praised for the bravery of pulling off something so idiosyncratic and unusual on screen. It is not an excellent film, because the plot does not hold up to scrutiny, having so many objectives to accomplish and being so nonsensical in its presentation. However, there is much artistic freedom sensed in this movie, which a couple of times spirals into very sexually-provocative scenes, while most of the other time the film also has one-liners which cannot but bring a smile or a nervous laugh. This totally bizarre ghost story film may just be your cup of tea, especially if you do not mind film premises that are unafraid to be a bit ludicrous, a bit inexplicable, a bit gory/morbid, a bit humorous and a bit witty – all at the same time, of course. 7/10