Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Peter Strickland’s In Fabric

In retrospect, Sheila Woodchapel should have just gone to Harrod’s, even though it might have been more expensive. There is a reason the king of all department stores still endures. Instead, she went to Dentley & Soper’s, lured by the promise of modern elegance at sale prices. The dress she buys turns out to be truly a killer in Peter Strickland’s In Fabric, which opens this Friday in New York.

Woodchapel is recently divorced and probably taking it even worse than her peevish millennial son Vince (is there any other kind of Millennial?). With considerable trepidation, she starts dating men through the newspaper classifieds (it is hard to pinpoint the exact time period, but a retro 1960s vibe deliberately permeates Fabric). Of course, she will need a new dress.

At Dentley & Soper’s, Woodchapel is tended to by the strange Cruella de Vil-esque Miss Luckmoore, who convinces her to take a fashionable red number that shouldn’t fit her, but somehow does. The new threads look fab on her, but ugly rashes breakout across her skin after she wears it for her first date. The sinister dress also seems to cause dangerous accidents around her flat. Soon, the red garment will have a similar effect on others.

The premise of Fabric sounds ludicrous, but in Strickland’s hands, it becomes an ultra-chic descent into madness. There is no question he is one of the most distinctive stylists creating genre cinema today. Arguably, Fabric is even more eye-popping than Berberian Sound Studio, but his earlier Gialo homage was a more disorienting head-spinner.

Regardless, the visual compositions and juxtapositions in Fabric are darkly dazzling. It is also cool to see Marianne Jean-Baptiste, the character thesp recognizable from Without a Trace and several hundred other film and TV credits, get to step out as the lead (more or less). She is terrific as Woodchapel, making us care (despite her human failings) and fear for the worst. She also has some unexpectedly realistic and appealing chemistry with Barry Adamson (former member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), as her more agreeable personals date.

Horror fans will also be relieved to hear Fatma Mohamed’s Miss Luckmoore is just weird as heck. Richard Bremmer is nearly as creepy playing Mr. Lundy, the store manager. However, the evilest characters just might be Stash and Clive, Woodchapel’s wickedly funny and thoroughly contemptible bosses, played by the relentlessly scenery-chewing Julian Barratt ND Steve Oram.

Color, lighting, and mood are all critically important to Fabric, so it is impossible to overstate the contributions of Ari Wegner’s uber-stylish cinematography. This could very well be the best-looking film of the year. There is probably supposed to be some kind of simplistic critique of consumerist culture in there, but fortunately it is totally overwhelmed by the hallucinatory viewing experience. Very highly recommended, In Fabric opens this Friday (12/6) in New York, at the Metrograph.