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‘In Fabric’ (review)

Produced by Andrew Starke
Written and Directed by Peter Strickland
Starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste,
Hayley Squires,
Leo Bill,
Gwendoline Christie, Julian Barratt

 

This deliriously demented tale about a haunted dress makes me want to catch up with Peter Strickland’s other films Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy.

A sort of Giallo with David Lynch-ian sensibilities, it takes place in an indeterminate past in London where rotary phones are still the norm, romance is conducted via personal ads in the newspaper, and the local department store ads are, well… there was never a department store like Dentley and Soper’s. Except perhaps in The Twilight Zone, by way of Mario Bava.

The fact that the staff – dressed as if straight out of a ’60s vampire movie – seems to be some kind of coven doesn’t register with its many customers, who line up in a frenzy to get in to their annual sale.

Among their clientele: Sheila Woodchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who’s trying to get back in the dating game after a divorce. In searching for the right dress for her first date, she’s steered toward a beautiful ’40s-style red dress. It’s not really her taste, she says, but formidable clerk Miss Luckmoore – whose dialogue consists of nonsensical flowery phrases –convinces her that this is the dress for her.

But after wearing the dress for the first time (for a hilariously unappreciative date named “Adonis,”) strange things start happening to Sheila: First an unpleasant rash and then unexplained accidents begin to plague her.

She learns more about the history of the dress, including that the model who first wore it was killed shortly thereafter. Could she be next?

It’s not like Sheila’s life was going all that well before the dress happened to her: Her adult son and his new girlfriend (a bewigged Gwendoline Christie) are openly disrespectful to her. And her bosses at the bank – whose comical absurdity would be right at home in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – are overly concerned with such trivial matters as her handshake and bathroom breaks.

The film loses momentum when it shifts to someone else who ends up with the unlucky dress, but In Fabric is a hypnotic horror vision that simply must be seen.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

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