Director: Peter Strickland
Talent: Fatma Mohamed, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Leo Bill, Hayley Squires
Released: 28 June
Peter Strickland is arguably the most fascinating living English director, a confabulist whose films are fetish objects as much as works of conventional storytelling. Here, he follows his exquisite 2014 erotic melodrama The Duke of Burgundy with something equally rarefied, but slightly more diffuse.
In Fabric follows the passage of a haunted dress, which we first encounter in a bizarre department store staffed by Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed. The dress is purchased by Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptise), a bank teller making a cautious return to the dating pool. Unfortunately for Sheila, all manner of malfeasance follows the dress, and she finds her life, her sanity, and her washing machine all swiftly in disarray.
The first half of In Fabric is as enjoyable as Strickland has ever been – swapping the Giallo and ‘Eurotica’ vocabulary of its precursors for a reworking of tropes from 1970s British studio Amicus Films, whose flair for the gimmicky and the ghoulish here acquires the patina of honest-to-goodness art. Jean-Baptiste is also on top form – her empathetic performance enriching Strickland’s arcane world with flesh-and-blood humanity, much as Sidse Babett Knudsen’s did in The Duke of Burgundy.
Things begin to unravel somewhat, however, in the more broadly comic second half, as the dress passes to new owners Reg and Babs (Leo Bill and Hayley Squires). At times, this section could even be mistaken for the work of Ben Wheatley (who receives an executive producer credit), making it the first time a Strickland opus has resembled anybody’s filmmaking but his own.
Still, In Fabric is largely a delight, and Strickland’s characteristic warping and looping reasserts itself for a haunting final passage that hints at all kinds of subterranean psychological and sociological interpretations. Even when his hold loosens, he remains the master of his own mysteriously, magnificently onanistic domain.