In Fabric is a haunting ghost story set against the backdrop of a busy winter sales period in a department store and follows the life of a cursed dress as it passes from person to person, with devastating consequences
“Did the transaction validate your paradigm of consumerism?” ~ Miss Luckmoore
I really don’t know if I have adequate words to review this film and I sure as shit don’t understand every aspect of it. What I do know is that I thoroughly enjoyed it – and I think I’m in love.
Sheila Woodchapel (Jean-Baptiste) is a recently divorced mother to ungrateful teenage swine, Vincent (Jaygann Ayeh). She works in a bank and is regularly pulled up for minor misdemeanors – such as having a bathroom break too close to ‘feeding time’ (I feel you, girl) – by her bosses, Stash and Clive (Barratt and Steve Oram). She is also intimidated in her own home by Vince’s older girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie) who enjoys loud sex, direct eye contact and leaving her shit lying around everywhere.
When she secures a date via a lonely hearts ad, Sheila goes to department store Dentley & Sopers to pick out an outfit. Here she is drawn to a beautiful red dress in size 36 (that’s a UK 8, yo). Dubious that it will zip up, Sheila is surprised to find that it fits like a glove. The store’s enigmatic sales clerk Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) has to use some light persuasion to encourage Sheila to buy the dress but the deal is eventually done.
The date, with a terrible man named Adonis, does not go to plan and to add insult to injury, the dress gives Sheila a mysterious rash. While the date naturally fizzles out, Miss Luckmoore – back at the department store – partakes in some supreme weirdness, removes her wig to reveal a completely bald head and takes a ride in a dumb waiter into the depths of the shop.
If you think this scene is bizarre but will eventually be explained, do not hold your breath. At some point in the narrative, this aside will also be eclipsed by the image of Luckmoore and friend caressing a mannequin sexually, while their boss caresses himself to ecstasy. I defy you – once you’ve seen this movie – to get THAT image out of your head. PS. I have made it sound way more casual than it actually is.
Dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements. ~ Miss Luckmoore
Sheila returns to the store, hoping to get the dress in a different size and is told by our mysterious shop girl that there is only one in existence and you guessed it, it’s Sheila’s. She also lets slip that the woman modelling the dress in the store catalogue died suddenly and horribly. Sheila starts to believe there is something really wrong with the garment and keeps finding it in Vince’s room, assuming that horrible Gwen has been raiding her wardrobe without her permission.
To further cement Sheila’s suspicions, she puts the dress in the washing machine and it pretty much implodes, hurting our girl quite badly in the kerfuffle. Not only that, it comes alive at night (Sheila can hear it in the wardrobe moving around) and only bad things seem to happen around it, including the attempted suffocation of Gwen (who totally deserves it) and a horrible dog attack (“Darren, you bastard!”).
When she tries to return the dress for a refund at Dentley & Sopers, Miss Luckmoore says several very cryptic things which essentially mean “no”. Sheila takes it home again when the store won’t even take it back for free but decides to dump it at the charity shop as soon as she can. On the way to the shop, she is distracted by a lone mannequin by the side of the road and she crashes.
Later the same dress comes into the possession of washing machine repairman Reg Speaks who is forced to wear it on his stag night. Oddly enough it fits him. When it makes its way into his home, his fiance Babs (Hayley Squires) finds that it fits her to perfection too. Both of them develop a similar rash after wearing the dress.
Reg also, for no explicable reason, has a very weird power: when he talks about the mechanics of the washing machine, people fall into a trance like state. Anyway, you guessed it, slowly but surely bad things start to happen for this nice couple too.
When they put the dress in their washing machine, that too explodes and being a repairman, Reg just fixes it himself. But apparently this is against company policy and the poor man is fired. In addition, their budgie dies and the pair assume its down to carbon monoxide poisoning. Except we know that the red dress has been up to its old tricks, don’t we? Oooooh!
Eventually, it all comes to a head when Reg finds himself home alone and Babs visits the store, where she receives a tongue-lashing from Saleswoman of the Year, Miss Luckmoore.
Needless to say that the dress is hellbent of claiming its next victims – and somehow, somewhere the store and its incredibly eccentric workforce are involved…
The hesitation in your voice, soon to be an echo in the recess in the spheres of retail. ~ Miss Luckmoore
It’s okay not actually having a Scooby what’s going on – the mystery is half the fun. And you can’t predict where it’s going either, which is refreshing in a way. What I hadn’t expected was how funny this film would be. It catches you again and again with its very quirky sense of humour.
Peter Strickland has a very unique style that might not be for everybody – but Jill and I have enjoyed Berberian Sound Studio in the past (funnily enough, during Halloween Month 2016). 2014’s The Duke of Burgundy was also a nicely odd tale of two lesbians pushing sexual boundaries (and studying the mating ritual of butterflies).
I sincerely doubt this movie will be everyone’s cup of tea either – it is very bizarre.
I *think* it’s about consumerism and maybe the quick shopping fix, and the price we pay for it (or others pay for it) but who bloody knows? You could ponder it forever and not have all the answers I’m betting.
In Fabric is produced by Ben Wheatley’s Rook Films and I feel as though this connection is responsible for a lot of the humor in it. Julian Barratt and Steve Oram in particular bring the zany with their insanely anal (but also all too familiar) double act. Every informal ‘chat’ they have with Sheila about her work made me die.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste is an absolute dream and I very much missed her when she left the story. The woman was a bloody saint. I was also very partial to the retro aesthetic that at the same time as really capturing an era, also felt timeless. How’s that even possible?
Honestly, this is definitely one of my favourite films of the year and absolutely worth checking out if you’re tired of run-of-the-mill Hollywood horror. You won’t get washed away in a ride of bloody special effects but you will gain so much more.