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Sunday, April 14, 2019

AFF '19: IN FABRIC is the best kind of surreal horror

Peter Strickland's films are always difficult to define, from his ode to the Italian Giallo in Berberian Sound Studio to the women-only alternate universe BDSM romance of The Duke of Burgundy. His newest film, In Fabric, is firmly in the horror camp, but is too stylish and bizarre to fit easily into any sub-genre.

In Fabric tells the story of a cursed dress sold at a bizarre and sort of occult department store. Each person who wears the dress suffers the curse, passing the dress on to its next victim. The majority of the film focuses on Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a newly single mother who buys the dress to wear on a blind date, but also spends time with a washing machine repairman and his wife who both end up wearing the dress.

From the opening shot of a glistening switchblade opening a box to dramatically reveal the dress, its clear that you're in for a stylish treat. The film is visually lush, full of gorgeous and strange shots and colorfully haunting images. This is augmented by the really fun score by Cavern of Anti-Matter that provides a synth-driven backdrop reminiscent of those by Goblin.

The world of the film is probably its strongest feature, though; while the protagonists are mostly normal people, everyone around them are strange and fascinating characters. The department store clerk talks ornately about purchase receipts and clothes shopping as if they are ominous, magical things. When Sheila purchase the dress, the clerk responds, "Did the transaction validate your paradigm of consumerism?" Commercials for the store are hypnotic and omnipresent, and Sheila's supervisors at her job at the bank regularly offer to role play with her to help improve her handshake and ask her to describe her nightmares in vivid detail. There's a scene that takes places in the store overnight that involves a mannequin and semen flying gracefully through the air–lets just say it wasn't entirely surprising that the credits included "Mannequin Pubic Hair."

My only real issue with the film is in its episodic nature. It spends well over half the film with Sheila, then shifts to another couple for the last act, and this feels sort of unsatisfying. It almost feels like it could have been much longer, following the dress through several more victims, rather than just the two interwoven stories. Barring that, I would've been just as happy to see Sheila's story extended to the full length of the film, as she was much more interesting than the other victims of the evil dress.

In Fabric is certainly not for everyone–at least one person in our theater decided they had seen just about enough and walked out during perhaps the strangest scene–but if you're into surreal horror with a stylish edge, this one is definitely for you. It's my kind of weird in the best possible way, and aside from the somewhat anticlimactic structure, it's a feast for the senses.

In Fabric is directed by Peter Strickland and stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Fatma Mohamed, and Gwendoline Christie and premiered at TIFF.
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