Subverting genre conventions is one thing. Channeling them into a wholly unique artistic vision is another thing entirely. This is what sets English filmmaker Peter Strickland apart as an innovator, even as he works with decades-old material. Film after film, he manages to be postmodern yet devotional, ironic yet totally sincere. A giallo slasher with no violence (Berberian Sound Studio) and a Rollin-esque Eurosleaze lesbian romance fantasy with no nudity and virtually no sex (The Duke of Burgundy) might seem like gimmicks and auteurist indulgences. But Strickland repurposes the stylistic language of those genres for a deeper connection with the logic-defying worlds of his characters, erasing the space between our suspension of disbelief and our ability to empathize.
In Fabric takes a simple, absurd low-budget horror idea—what if a dress is possessed/haunted/evil?—and uses the opportunity to explore vanity, self-perception, and ambition. When we dress to impress, are we more than glorified mannequins? Are we placing too much of our self-worth in a dead piece of fabric as our soul deteriorates within? When we fall for a sales pitch, are we signing part of ourselves away? Do we define our identity too much by external factors, including our occupation?
R, 117 minutes
In Fabric follows a size 36 red dress (that miraculously fits every person who wears it) on its journey from high-end (and probably demonic) retailer Dentley & Soper to several otherwise unconnected Londoners. We start with Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a single mother and bank teller trying to reenter the dating scene. After a hard sell from Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed), she buys the dress, but notices strange events, such as a peculiar rash on her chest, vivid dreams, strange sounds in her closet, and the dress appearing where she did not leave it. The dress then goes to Reg Speaks (Leo Bill), a washing machine repairman who is forced to wear it on his stag night, again experiencing the strange occurrences.
This is without a doubt Strickland’s silliest movie, but that never comes in the form of self-deprecation, knowing winks, or tired references. He never belittles or satirizes the source material, preferring to earn laughs from the absurdity of this universe in which bosses call lunch break “feeding time,” detailed technical descriptions of washing machine repair are hypnotic and pleasurable, and a clearly nefarious store like Dentley & Soper can continue to operate. Strickland casts famous comedians Julian Barratt and Steve Oram as Sheila’s bosses, fixated on the length of toilet breaks and polite gestures toward superiors. It is also a delight to see Gwendoline Christie given the opportunity to chew the scenery as Sheila’s son’s model girlfriend.
Despite the lighter tone, Strickland sacrifices nothing in terms of style, using a striking color palette reminiscent of 1980s kitsch. His incorporation of comedy is a surprising fit, having made such powerful statements on dread and alienation in the past. If you are new to Strickland’s work, In Fabric is a perfect place to start.
Local theater listings
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 375 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056.
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213.
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000.
See it again
It’s a Wonderful Life
PG, 130 minutes
The Paramount Theater, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema