Tallgrass Film Festival Review: In Fabric

I’m not trying to be a contrarian here. I feel like I’m going against the grain on purpose but I just didn’t feel the connection with this one.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand it. The film is blunt and makes no apologies about its statements about late-stage capitalism and modern consumerist attitudes. The fact that the store involved in the plot is peddling its wares with advertising that looks particularly hellish isn’t subtle. Director Peter Strickland has gone bonkers with this and there’s a lot to talk about with it.

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Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays divorcee Sheila, a UK bank teller that is trying to get back into the dating pool. She’s besotted on all sides by everything from overbearing supervisors, nitpicking her work performance to death, to her son (Jaygann Ayeh) and his new, older girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie). The dates she’s gone on look more tiresome than titillating, but Sheila is determined to make this work. She heads to Dentley and Soper’s, a department store advertising a winter sale utilizing some rather hot signs, and purchases a red dress. Here we see the entrance of Fatma Mohamed as Miss Luckmoore, a freakin’ weird-ass store clerk that is both the best part of the film and the frustratingly blunt part of it. Sheila picks up a red dress, a rather strange affair that still looks great on her. Shenanigans ensue. The film turns a different direction pretty much right at the halfway mark, switching protagonists while keeping the dress as a connecting factor. Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) is a washing machine repairman who gets trashed at his stag party and is tricked into wearing the red dress. His fiancee, Babs (Hayley Squires), tries the dress as well but is disturbed by its flexible reality and the unseemly rash they both display on their chests. Shenanigans ensue.

download (1)I want to touch on part of what makes this work. The editing and shooting style is reminiscent of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, Giallo in style and plot. While the Italian directors are able to use the style and language of the visuals to make the thin plots work. Strickland attempts to do the same thing and comes so VERY close that it’s frustrating. His visuals are over-the-top, the dress moving around on its own and seemingly empowered by whatever ritual Miss Luckmoore is performing with the mannequins at the department store (which sure as shit looks like hell), and it’s attacking people creatively. I love the combination of the ironed-out performances coupled with the killer score and absolutely batshit insane editing. The itching, screeching, cracked-out feeling to the transitional scenes and their repetitive visuals serve to drive you insane and offer a phantasmagorical vibe. 

The same vibe enshrines Fatma Mohamed as she weaves through scenes and dialogue as a witchy store clerk. Her thick, Romanian accent spews pretentious consumerism in a delightful way that I couldn’t get enough of. It was just ridiculous and gross and awful and hilarious. The film itself is all of these things, perfectly represented by this character of Miss Luckmoore. 

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And that’s also the problem. Ridiculous and gross and awful and hilarious only get you so far. I was looking for a plot, but without a true one, the film felt like a complete style over substance scenario. I don’t mind that in certain cases but I think it’s hard to pull off. The near-universal acclaim that this film has received baffles me. Is it gorgeous to look at? Yup. How about full of great performances? Check. The stunning score, laughs, scares, and social commentary? Also there. My friend, walking out, described the film as what would happen if an incredibly articular seventeen-year-old was given a budget large enough to create something like this and that’s an accurate view. Strickland has turned out films I’ve enjoyed like The Duke of Burgundy and a segment of The Field Guide to Evil, but this time I feel like he’s misfired. In Fabric is a stunningly fun misfire, but nothing I’d take time to see again.

For those interested, the film hits wide release on December 6th, 2019.

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