Peter Strickland continues to push at narrative conventions with this witty costume horror that's another extraordinarily rich and strange work from a unique filmmaker
Pitched somewhere between Suspiria and Are You Being Served?, Peter Strickland’s fourth feature is both his most ambitious film and his funniest. In Fabric revolves around the plush Dentley & Sober's department store, which is populated by vampiric staff who use semen and menstrual blood to create haunted garments that are then sold to unsuspecting customers. One of these customers is Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a single mother who purchases a red dress as part of an attempt to kick-start her love life, but this malevolent and seemingly indestructible gown has a life of its own.
A haunted dress, a violently malfunctioning washing machine, Gwendoline Christie’s face on a pair of underpants and dialogue like “the hesitation in your voice, soon to be an echo in the spheres of retail”; In Fabric is a baroque, fantastical creation that frequently risks ridicule. Strickland's elegant style and exacting attention to detail that distinguished Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy holds it all together, creating a campy, unsettling and intoxicating environment populated with eccentric characters. Leo Bill frequently lapses into a trancelike state when discussing washing machine repair, while the chameleonic Fatma Mohamed’s precise body language and delivery is entirely captivating, but the performances from Jean-Baptiste and later Hayley Squires crucially keep the film grounded in a recognisable reality.
There’s a jarring mid-film twist that not every viewer will be on board with, and the second half lacks the impact of the first, but this choice emphasises a sense of randomness in the deaths wreaked by the phantom dress and confirms that Strickland is determined to push his storytelling into risky new areas and confound audience expectations. It's another extraordinarily rich and strange work from a unique filmmaker; what other contemporary British director would require a citation for "mannequin pubic hair" in their closing credits?