“You who wear me, will know me.”
Peter Strickland isn’t really a film director.
At least not if the extent of your cinema going is “Fast and the Furious 36” or “Star Wars – The Phantom Jedi Menace”.
That sounds a bit snooty?
What Strickland does is use cinema to create art.
And, if we are being honest, usually with a dose of high camp thrown in for good measure.
“In Fabric” is a nod, a visceral one, to the Italian Giallo films of the sixties and seventies. Films like “Suspiria”, “Tenebrae”, “What Have You Done to Solange?” and “Blood and Black Lace” from the likes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. This isn’t the first time he has made reference to this period, “Berberian Sound Studio” was explicitly set inside an Italian film studio at this time.
Giallo cinema is, to the casual observer, simply lurid and nasty horror but, for those with eyes to see they are also brilliantly crafted and beautifully shot pieces of cinema. The use of colour and sound in those films has, arguably, rarely been bettered.
“In Fabric” sees Strickland turning his unique vision to clothes and shopping…through the medium of a demonic red dress and a coven of witches in a department store.
No, I’m not joking.
He has spoken about the inspiration for the core story being his own love of shopping and of the stories that lie behind items of second hand clothing. How much you wish to believe the director is up to you. I think, that like Von Trier, Strickland is a bit of a prankster. He is playing with the audience and with critics. It is true that, like “Day of the Dead”, the role of consumerism is front and centre but where Romero played things straight and where the giallo directors went for shocks, thrills and spills, Strickland decides to play it for laughs. At least I hope this was a conscious decision, otherwise something has gone terribly wrong.
Lots of horror films use humour to heighten the impact of the scares and to stop the film from becoming monotanal and monotonous but here, at times, the film veers dangerously close to “Carry On…Giallo”. Eventually this becomes tiresome…but that isn’t the only thing that has a soporific impact on the audience. There is a long running “joke” involving a washing machine repair man that, frankly, grows old long before it has finished the first time…let alone the fourth time.
Like “The Duke of Burgundy” and “Berberian Sound Studio” Strickland delivers cinema that is theatrical…everything is ramped up for the benefit of the people in the back row. Things seem a little…wooden, awkward and uncomfortable; like a school show where the only people who are really enjoying things are the ones on stage.
If this all sounds terrible…it’s not.
There is a stunning central performance from Marianne Jean-Baptiste as “Sheila” and an even more stunning performance from the costume designer and cinematographer. The film is astonishing to look at…the colours bring to mind, at various points, “The Shining” and “Vertigo” (colour isn’t the only thing that pays homage to Hitchcock’s classic) and there are moments when the only thing on screen is the red dress which are as beautiful as any work of art.
Ultimately “In Fabric” is guilty of being all surface and very little feeling…like a demented “Are You Being Served” but with less sex, less chemistry and less tension. That’s a great shame because I really wanted to adore this.