In 70s Britain, Sheila (Mariannne Jean-Baptiste) is a single mother looking for love. She purchases a striking dress from an unusual boutique in her department store. She soon discovers that the dress has a will of its own; a malevolent will!
In Fabric is a delightful horror story with a very playful sense of humour. Giallo lighting, gothic set design, and a synth-heavy soundtrack create a very singular impression of a soulless British City. Writer-Director Peter Strickland masterfully blends surreal and absurd elements to bring life to a fairly conventional haunting narrative. In spite of his comical premise, he’s unafraid to explore the authentic poignancy of his character’s situation. Lonely figures, trying to find love but frustrated by the bizarre contrivances of a hostile world around them, and a killer dress.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Sheila as a very relatable and grounded central character. Her interactions with the bizarre assortment of grotesques that form the rest of the cast are fabulous for the naturalism she brings to her role. Gwendoline Christie plays Gwen, a malicious seductress who ensnares Sheila’s obstinate son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh). Julian Barratt and Steve Oram play Stash and Clive, Sheila’s fusty bosses who firmly but camply criticize Sheila’s performance, particularly her ‘insincere’ handshake.
The standout performance is that of Fatma Mohamed as the vampiric sales assistant Miss Luckmoore. Talking only in pseudo-philosophic sales pitches with an exotic accent and a sparkle in her eyes, she’s a hilarious take on the devilish seductress. Watching her interact with pragmatic characters like Sheila or Babs (an ever-brilliant Hayley Squires) is a joy. The film’s humour is very deadpan with our leads never noticing just how strange their environment has become.
The film is also a horror film and a very effective one. The dress may be an absurd antagonist but Strickland manages to infuse it with a malicious energy and sinister presence. Scenes within the store are dreamlike in their composition and pacing. A consumerist haze sets in, sapping the characters of their will. It’s a very amusing critique of consumerist culture.
In Fabric is a cheesy Stephen King-esque premise with profound arthouse sensibilities. It’s as much a treatise on the loneliness of consumerist culture as it is a hilarious camp extravaganza. It’s a deeply entertaining horror comedy with a huge array of talent bringing their best. In Fabric is one of the strangest and most entertaining horror films in years.