There’s no getting around this: In Fabric is about a dress that kills everyone who wears it. Much like Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber (which is about a murderous car tire), this takes the horror-movie slasher to an extreme. Is this dress really that much more ridiculous than Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, this film seems to ask. It’s playing this week at the Grand Berry Theatre, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more unusual film.
The dress, whose color is described as “artery red,” first appears in a British department store, where it’s bought by Sheila Woodchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a divorced bank teller looking for love while living with Vince (Jaygann Ayeh), her spoiled brat of a teenage son. Then again, he might simply have issues — he draws a picture of his girlfriend’s anus being worshipped by hundreds of tiny kneeling black men. From there, the dress passes through the hands of washing machine repairman Reg Speaks (Leo Bill), who has a legitimate claim to being the most boring man in the U.K. He wears the dress, but only because his male co-workers bully him into it, as it’s a gift for his fiancée of some 15 years (Hayley Squires). Soon, both of them are falling victim to the dress as well.
This is part of the weird, weird world of Peter Strickland, the British filmmaker who previously won acclaim with his 2015 lesbian S&M romance The Duke of Burgundy. His visuals are meticulously composed and shot in soft focus to resemble cheesy quasi-pornographic movies from the 1970s. The dialogue and performances are so stilted that they frequently shade over into deadpan comedy, as when Sheila first shops for the dress, and the creepy saleswoman (Fatma Mohamed) tells her, “The hesitation in your voice soon to be an echo in the recesses of the spheres of retail … In our apprehensions lie the crevices of clarity.” When Sheila says the dress isn’t her size, the clerk answers, “In a number is only the re-creation of actuality. Dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements.” The last time I went shopping at Kohl’s, nobody spoke to me like this. If they had, it would have made for a much more interesting trip.
Anyway, the dress turns out to be a sentient being that moves around on its own and kills not only people but also household pets and washing machines, which suffer the most gruesome deaths of anyone in the movie. Besides these, we also get religious rituals involving the store clerks having sex with department-store mannequins and a the dress causing a fire in the store, which prompts a PA announcement: “A dramatic affliction has compromised our trusted department store. Get out graciously.” Gwendoline Christie also pops up here as Vince’s girlfriend. In the end, I don’t find that this comes together as smoothly as The Duke of Burgundy, a better introduction to Strickland’s style. However, if you’re a devotee of cinema of the weird like me and dig the outré stylings of Mandy and The Lighthouse, In Fabric is a good bet for you.
Starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Leo Bill. Written and directed by Peter Strickland. Rated R.