For anyone who has ever worked a day or two in retail (this ageing reviewer has endured over a decade of everything such a job has to offer), then Peter Strickland’s latest may ring true in so many ways, except for the killer red dress bit. Then again, maybe those of you who have worked in a clothes shop have had a strange experience with the garments that were sold. In any case, consumerism and “retail therapy” are still cornerstones for much discussion in the UK these days, as the high-street continues to dwindle and the department store, in particular, is almost at its sad end.
It’s here, in fact, that Strickland’s new film takes place for the most part, in a lavish, twinkling high-end department store from a time long past (1983, to be exact, but it feels much further away than it seems) when you could spend a whole day getting lost in its vast, opulent floors dedicated to excess, especially during sale time. SALE, SALE, SALE shouts the marketing, every is going cheap and you must buy it, is the dilemma of Sheila (Marianne-Jean Baptiste) who is looking for a new dress for a date. Set upon by a rampant shop assistant who seems desperate for a bonus, she’s led to a beautiful red dress that dazzles. But, both physically and mentally, it doesn’t quite fit and soon enough we have a psychotic killer Chris De Burgh inspired dress on the loose.
Indeed, aside from being as beautiful and lusciously indulgent as most of his films are, In Fabric as a narrative doesn’t quite fit because it crosses so many different plains: the aforementioned commentary on the changing landscapes of consumer habits and our dying British high street institutions is there but this is an absurdist comedy, one that at times has more in common with Zucker Abrahams and Zucker – the men behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun – than you may be thinking. Say it out loud – a killer red dress is on the loose! – and it does conjure up images of the late great Leslie Nielsen in frantic pursuit whilst jokes reign down. In fact, there’s one outrageous sequence involving Sheila and her performance review that is so over-the-top that it rings even more true than it should.
But this, above all, is a devilishly good ghost story revolving around cults, witches, killer dresses and out of control washing machines that is as ludicrous as it is utterly riveting. There are many moments of terror to cherish, as well as some that may send some to wince a little but Strickland’s strange, idiosyncratic sensibilities have never been more compelling or mesmerising, with Ari Wegner’s magnificent cinematography as transcendental as it was in 2016’s equally mesmeric Lady Macbeth, and excellent performances across the board to raise it up even further, with Baptiste and the ever-brilliant Hayley Squires the stand-outs.
This, as with much of the director’s other works, will split opinion, raise debate and quite frankly won’t be to everyone’s taste – indeed, there are a few moments that do go one step too far, even for avid followers – but In Fabric is perhaps his greatest work to date. A psychedelic, distinct and original horror-come-consumerism fantasy comedy that will be remembered as one of the years true original’s.
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Horror, Comedy | UK, 2018 | 15 | 28th June 2019 (UK) | Cinema & Digital HD | Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir.Petrr Strickland | Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Gwendoline Christie, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Fatma Mohamed