In Fabric wears its tribute to Giallo cinema proudly as a badge of honour. The images appearing on screen are filled with beautifully vivid colours (most noticeably red) while Cavern of Anti-Matter‘s score blares over the speakers, sounding suspiciously similar to Goblin’s infamous score to Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
Director, Peter Strickland’s deep love for Giallo cinema isn’t much of a surprise if you’re familiar with his previous works, most notably Berberian Sound Studio in which a sound engineer’s work in an Italian horror film studio begins to take a heavy toll on his mental health. Even without this knowledge, it’s clear within the first few minutes, Strickland manages to evoke a strong emotional response from the viewer with visuals alone.
Set in 1980s London, Sheila, a lonely single mother just out of a recent divorce, looks for a new romance through a lonely hearts ad in the newspaper. Needing a confidence booster for future dates, Sheila searches the aisles of a local department store and finds the perfect red dress.
After wearing her dress on a few dates, it’s evident that something isn’t quite right with it. It continuously leaves nasty looking rashes on Sheila’s body, winds up in other rooms of the house and at one point, even breaks the washing machine (in a genuinely terrifying scene).
A possessed dress? Hilarious, right? But luckily, the humour of the film allows the audience to laugh with it, rather than at it while the slow pacing and build up towards the dress’ actions allow In Fabric to occasionally cause a scare rather than laughter.
The dress isn’t the only strange element of the film (to say the least). Strickland uses the norms of a Giallo film to increase the oddness of the film, while also tipping his hat to those he’s tributing.
In Fabric includes:
- a Witches Coven running a department store
- a silently intense boss
- a hypnotic plumber
- two deceptively kind bank managers
All of these elements mesh together to create a wonderfully weird movie… That is until the second half.
Shortly after the first hour, Sheila’s story comes full circle and it looks as though the credits are just about to roll, but the film keeps going. It seems like it could be a quick five-minute segment to quickly close the film, but no, it keeps playing. For another forty minutes.
Following suit from movies like Full Metal Jacket and A Boy and His Dog, it’s obvious that In Fabric is very much a film of two halves, as a second story begins to play out, also involving the red dress. This time a thirty-something plumber, Reg Speaks, is forced to wear it on a stag do, before giving it to his wife as a present a few days later. It’s at this moment that the film takes a complete and utter nosedive, practically destroying the momentum it had successfully built.
Sheila was the perfect protagonist for the film. Just out of a messy divorce, a son who isn’t all that interested in her, bosses who continuously pull her up about the small things and she’s incredibly lonely – there was a lot to go at with Sheila. This gives the audience someone to get behind, someone they genuinely want to make it out at the end, whereas Reg Speaks is the complete opposite.
He’s a boring, unrelatable, character who sends both the other characters and the audience to sleep. Reg isn’t necessarily a poorly written character, but it seems unnecessary and comes across as a rip off of the first half, but with a new character.
Almost everything in the second half is a duplicate of the first, but worse. The second story may allow for a truly fantastic climax, but sadly, it just isn’t enough to salvage what it once was.
In Fabric is a brilliant throwback to Giallo cinema through its use of cinematography, set and costume design, colour, writing and directing. Sheila’s character (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is fantastic and the excellent message on capitalism had the film as a genuine contender for a spot in the top ten best films of the year.
Unfortunately, In Fabric’s strengths were also its own demise, making it one of the most frustrating films of the year.