Peter Strickland is a stylistic maximalist, an homage specialist who makes Tarantino look like a film school pedant. Along with Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani (Amer; Let the Corpses Tan), Strickland is the functional definition of ‘your mileage may vary’. His new film In Fabric is strikingly designed and undeniably beautiful to look at, but, for this critic, is exhausting. It is, on paper, fairly easy to describe — a haunted dress destroys anyone it comes into contact with. But in practice, the film is a bizarre bit of tonal whiplash, veering wildly from horror tropes to broad comedy to abstract interludes that look like outtakes from the post-Lichtenstein pop-art animated assemblages of Lewis Klahr. The film is bifurcated into two parts, the first notably stronger than the second. In the first half, a divorced middle-aged woman buys the haunted dress for a date, only gradually noticing that strange things begin occurring once she brings it home. Perhaps the first sign of trouble is the strange saleswoman who talks her into buying it, who speaks only in cryptic epigrams. The film occasionally stops to check in on this woman, who may or may not be a witch or whatever (it is frankly alarming once the woman begins masturbating an anatomically correct mannequin).
Part two finds the dress attaching itself to a mild-mannered appliance repair man who is planning a wedding, and the whole thing culminates in an apocalyptic finale inside the (haunted?) department store. Strickland has a blast cataloging the various genre tropes here, from old British omnibus films to familiar standbys like Jess Franco and Jean Rollins. The film is also frequently funny, but the horror and the comedy don’t mesh in any kind of interesting way, instead undercutting each other. There’s just nothing scary about a sentient red dress creeping under doors and hovering over beds. Strickland ultimately settles on a kind of anti-capitalist, consumerist satire, something about how the things we own wind up owning us. Frankly, by the time he gets there, according to your mileage, you, like me, may have already checked out. At least the packaging is pretty.
Published as part of December 2019’s Before We Vanish.