It’s fair to say that if you are familiar with the work of writer/director Peter Strickland, you know exactly what to expect with each new release. With a strong style and clear thematic tendencies that are just as recognisable as bigger names like Tarantino, Scorsese or Lynch, you know that going in to a Strickland picture will provide a challenging and thought provoking experience. His 2014 film The Duke Of Burgundy, a story about the subservient/dominant dynamic between two female lovers, was all kinds of wild. I went in to In Fabric not fully expecting to like it, but definitely expecting to feel something.
It’s a real shame, then, that my overriding feeling was one of complete an utter boredom, which is surprising given the film’s premise. In Fabric tells the story of a red dress purchased in a mysterious clothing store that puts a fatal curse on anyone who wears it. Starting with single mother Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) dressing up for a date and ending with soon to be husband Reg (Leo Bill) in fancy dress on his stag do, the audience watch on as the seemingly invincible garment wreaks deadly havoc.
In synopsis and in aesthetic the film is very much a quirky, retro feeling B movie that isn’t afraid to treat such an outrageous premise with mood setting sincerity. Discounting the cool vintage visuals, though, I have to say that the entire thing is just boring. I usually hate using boring as a description, it’s too vague, but in this case, boring really sums it up. I think that a lot of my problems with In Fabric come down to the fact that I’m not a fan of the filmmaker. With The Duke Of Burgundy in mind, it’s clear to see that Peter Strickland likes to use drawn out takes and unconventional perspective shots, as well as forcing a scene to sit in silence to evoke an oppressive atmosphere. Some film lovers might enjoy this kind of filmmaking, but personally I find it to be pretentious, self indulgent and overall just a bit too wanky.
The most strikingly annoying thing about In Fabric in particular is that Strickland essentially forces the audience to watch the same story twice in a row, first with Sheila and then with Reg. Any interest and intrigue that one might have built up in the first half of the movie quickly begins to dissipate in the second hour when it becomes clear that pretty much every story beat is going to be repeated with a different set of characters. Not only is the film more boring than it thinks it is, it then has the gall to make you watch that first boring half again with very few interesting changes. Honestly, I could physically feel my fingernails growing in the last forty minutes or so.
Much like The Duke Of Burgundy, there are explicit sexual themes and scenes throughout the film, but whilst they were relevant in the 2014 picture, they feel completely forced here. An extended orgy scene complete with a shop mannequin with a bleeding vagina as a creepy old man flings semen across the screen. Cool. So edgy. For absolutely no valid reason to the plot at all. Hipster student film comes to mind.
I may have hated the film, but I can’t fault any of the central performances. As Sheila, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is the closest thing the narrative has to a real, relatable character. Her portrayal of a kind but put upon middle aged divorcee is enjoyable to watch, and Jean-Baptiste provides some enjoyable character moments in the brief parts of the film where the dark humour actually worked for me.
Things slow down in the second half when Leo Bills takes centre stage as washing machine repairman Reg, but only because the character is less energetic and interesting. You can see that Bills did all that was asked of him in the role, it’s just a case of the character not really making any kind of impact in the latter stages of the picture.
A few interesting supporting performances are given by the likes of Fatma Mohamed, Gwendoline Christie and Hayley Squires. Mohamed in particular as Miss Luckmoore, the strange and mysterious retail assistant from whom the dress is originally bought, is one of the standout characters in the film. The vibe of everything related to the shop is very Suspiria-esque, and I wish we could have learnt more about the mythology and backstory of that plot element. Unfortunately, the film is deliberately obtuse on that point, not in a fun ‘open to interpretation’ way, but simply in a ‘we’re not going to explain any of the potentially interesting stuff’ way. Massively style over substance.
Overall, In Fabric was a total miss for me. Can you tell? There’s no doubt that it is a quirky and unique creation, but in my opinion you can physically feel the desperation to become a cult classic. I’m sure that it will be regarded as such by critics more studied and experienced than me, but that doesn’t stop me from coming to my own conclusion that it is boring, faux edgy, shock value, patience testing rubbish.