starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Gwendoline Christie
written and directed by Peter Strickland
by Walter Chaw Peter Strickland's In Fabric is more Luca Guadagnino than Mario Bava, but there's connective tissue enough in both to ascribe a specific parentage. It understands that element of giallo that equates surface glamour, a certain luxurious hedonism, with various forms of infernal consumption. There's a culinary maxim about how you eat with your eyes first (and there's a correlation between eating and sex, of course), so the first way to read In Fabric is to say that it's a beautiful film, truly rapturous at times, to the point of being almost tactile. It reminded me in that way of the great Kim Jee-woon film A Tale of Two Sisters, which was so interested in colours and textures that you could almost feel them in the back of your eyes. Another way to look at In Fabric is as a spoof, a comedy that's consistently amusing and often hilarious, that takes as its central object of scorn the idea and practice of Capitalism as it's metastasized into a potentially world-ending cancer. Possibly the best way to read In Fabric, though, is as a continuation of the themes advanced by Gadagnino's Suspiria: women as unimaginably powerful and, for that, terrifying and essentially unknowable to the men who would try to destroy them.
Strickland layers dense, disturbed montages of images in among more conventional narrative blocks of his story of a dress, e.g., fashion catalogues featuring upset-looking models Sheila will later learn have been killed in zebra crossings, or a mannequin with fulsome pubic hair and a pulsating, bloody vagina manipulated by a pair of witches for the onanistic pleasure of the department store's resident warlock, Mr. Lundy (Richard Bremmer). In a scene that pinions the essential base ridiculousness of male desire, Mr. Lundy masturbates to a woman rubbing bloody discharge against her lips. Compare it against the scene in Guadagnino's Suspiria where the dance teachers laugh at a policeman's limp dick. Men are as useless in In Fabric as language. The hero of the film's second part is washing-machine repairman Reg (Leo Bill), who inherits the dress for a reason I won't tell you, and is given to reciting washing-machine specifications in long, droning streams of deadening technical jargon. His litany is not unlike the gibberish spoken by the Thames Valley Dentley & Soper girls: an Ionescovian word salad that underscores, mainly, how words don't have any inherent meaning, and that goes double for sales pitches and repairman double-speak.
In Fabric is at once an endurance test and a breeze. It's deeply peculiar and notably off-putting but seems to be having a great time when, all of a sudden, it has something trenchant and unsettling to say about that shit you bought on Amazon when you were up too late and lonesome that one night. It's a movie, in other words, about our current state of social decay. All our relationships are transactional, now. To quote the one and only Happy Harry Hard-On, all the great themes have been turned into theme parks. In Fabric is a silly film about serious subjects, a shrine to giallo that is in the end an updating of it. It's the feature-length version of that scene in Vertigo where Scotty makes a parade of models at a dress store try to tickle his crotch with exactly the right dress in which his replacement girlfriend will be forced to imitate a dead woman. Like a mannequin, n'est-ce pas? Aren't we all? In Fabric is a work of great intelligence and craft, but most of all it's a diagnosis, like so many of the films in this, the first disastrous years of our corpulent lord Trump, of the tumours that will kill us--the ones we bought, or downloaded, or otherwise invited to act as our fiddles while Rome burns.