PLOT: When a single mother decides to purchase an expensive dress, she discovers that she doesn’t own the article of clothing. In fact, it appears that it may own her.
REVIEW: How many of you have had the chance to see THE LIGHTHOUSE? You know that bizarre flick from Robert Eggers? For many, it’s a weird and kind of wonderful flick about lighthouse keepers, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Well if you thought that was bizarre, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In the new fashion feature IN FABRIC, a woman picks up a dress that seems to have a mind of its own. If you think about what a “killer dress” movie would look like, you’d still be way off as to what this dreamy, damn near Lynchian production is. Yet with interesting casting, a diabolically strange dream like quality and a few of the most bizarre moments of the year – what’s the deal with the mannequin sex scene – you have a film that is truly original. While it may not reach the heights that one would hope with art house horror, it’s certainly compelling.
The great Marianne Jean-Baptiste portrays Sheila, a single mother who does her best trying to take care of herself and her near adult son, Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) as well as his troublesome girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie). Desperate for a little respect, and much needed human companionship, she decides to buy an expensive red dress hoping to impress an upcoming date. However, the pricey purchase soon becomes more problematic than its worth. Sheila begins to realize that no matter what she does, she cannot get rid of her new outfit. After giving her a rash, messing with her washing machine and a few other issues, she finds that the item may have taken control over her. While there is much more to the story, I’m hesitant to speak too much about the plot. This crazy feature takes a few intriguing turns as the dress also finds itself in the possession of a man and his soon to be wife (Leo Bill and Hayley Squires).
When I mentioned that this film is bizarre, I promise you it’s not hyperbolic. If you hear that a movie is about a killer dress, it’s not that hard to imagine what you’d normally expect. This is not that movie. Artfully done, writer/director Peter Strickland takes this story into territory that would make Ken Russell or David Lynch salivate. And that damn dress is the centerpiece of it all. In fact, we see this lovely red outfit twisting itself and dancing around with nobody holding it as if it were doing some sort of mysterious performance art. This flick is outrageously weird. Whether you are talking about the fancy clothing store that sells the item in question, or the odd circumstances in which the dress changes hands, there is much to admire for those seeking something truly unusual.
For starters, the most memorable character – aside from the terrific Jean-Baptiste – is Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed). Her ethereal take on the oddball sales person is unsettling to say the least. To be fair, every single person working at this high end dress shop is perhaps insane – or probably something more sinister. Before they open the doors to the public, they stand in front of the windows beckoning the clientele to come in like some crazed circus performance. The store itself resembles a sort of glossy, over priced, 18th Century Hot Topic. The Victorian garb and the proper hairstyles certainly give the movie an unusual tone. And since every single person working there feels anything but human, you can only imagine the strangeness on display. As well, there is one fairly explicit sexual act involving the previously mentioned, and very detailed, mannequin that is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable images I’ve seen all year.
As much as I appreciated the oddball nature of the film, the narrative shift that happens near around the halfway point is slightly unsatisfying. While I appreciated both performances from Leo Bill and Hayley Squires, I didn’t quite sympathize with them as I did Ms. Jean-Baptiste. As well, the second half of the film feels a bit repetitive compared to the engrossing beginning. Yet still, you have to credit Strickland for taking on the subject in such an unusual and original way. It’s honestly difficult to compare this flick to others that follow a similar formula. It’s an unexpected, and perhaps a bit difficult, cinematic experience that celebrates its own over-the-top nature.
IN FABRIC is a wildly compelling, yet occasionally frustrating film to take in. Yet it’s utterly refreshing having such an incredibly talented performer like Marianne Jean-Baptiste in a leading role. While the change in focus of who we follow is a bit abrupt and doesn’t fully work, both Bill and Squires do a commendable job of creating two intriguing characters. Yet the appeal here isn’t simply the on-screen talent, it’s the ludicrous nature of this haunted dress and how far the film goes to present something alluring yet impossibly bizarre. The floating dress, quick cuts of mannequins, strange rashes and one of the most jaw-drooping pseudo sex scenes that you are likely to see – one that is far more strange than sexy – all make this flick something that will likely be a bit divisive amongst movie fans. However, if you like originality and perhaps a whole lot of insanity, this one is definitely worth the experience.