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Hannah Woodhead

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In Fabric – first look review

Peter Strickland spins a yarn about a very literal phantom thread in his most audacious and bizarre film to date.

The Boxing Day sales are a noble tradition among British department stores, a time at which capitalism is freely celebrated and retailers go to great lengths to entice customers beyond their festooned facades. This quaint custom dating from the Victorian era provides the backdrop for Peter Strickland’s sumptuous new feature, in which a haunted garment stocked by a venerable London retailer causes havoc for some unsuspecting customers. The premise alone is cause for befuddlement, but as always with Strickland, a plot synopsis doesn’t really do justice as to how utterly bizarre the film really is.

In the stately halls of Dentley and Soper’s Department Store, a dress awaits its new home. Only one dress, mind – a vision in ‘artery red’, only one in stock, size 36. Newly divorced Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) happens upon it while searching for an outfit for a date, and is convinced to buy it by a cryptic, highly persuasive shop assistant (Fatma Mohamed). While initially delighted with her sumptuous bargain, Sheila’s pride quickly sours as strange things start to happen – meanwhile, after hours at Dentley and Soper, the female staff form a strange sort of coven, performing disturbing rituals which hint at the institution’s true sinister nature.

Much like The Duke of Burgandy, Strickland’s flair for dramatic production design gives In Fabric a distinct richness. But the film’s sound design is its most remarkable element – whether it’s rustling cloth or unnerving chatter that builds to a deafening crescendo. Although the second act feels substantially weaker than the first, the unbridled weirdness of the film renders it completely compelling, a sort of Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place meets Say Yes to the Dress. Props also to the dynamic duo of Julian Barratt and Steve Oram, who add some much-needed levity as two jobsworth bureaucrats tangentially connected to the main plot.

Two scenes in particular will likely revulse or delight depending on your constitution, but the film’s standout moment involves, oddly enough, a washing machine. While it may not convert anyone who disliked the director’s earlier features, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgandy, for fans of the strange, stylised world Strickland has created, In Fabric is a raucous, full-tilt descent into bishop-sleeved madness.

Published 10 Sep 2018

Tags: Gwendoline Christie Peter Strickland Sidse Babett Knudsen Toronto Film Festival

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