Combustible Celluloid
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With: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Gwendoline Christie, Barry Adamson, Jaygann Ayeh, Richard Bremmer, Terry Bird, Fatman Mohamed
Written by: Peter Strickland
Directed by: Peter Strickland
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content including a scene of aberrant behavior, and some bloody images
Running Time: 118
Date: 12/06/2019

In Fabric (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dress Blues

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Inspired by Italian and English horror movies of the 1960s and 1970s, this surreal nightmare contains inspired imagery and unsettling sound design, but may run a little too long to sustain its spell.

In In Fabric, Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is recently separated from her husband and living with her grown son, Vince (Jaygann Ayeh). Lonely, she places a dating ad and sets out to buy a perfect dress. A strange shop, promoted by bewitching television ads, offers her a one-of-a-kind red dress that fits perfectly.

Sheila's first date goes badly, she finds the tension rising in her home as her son brings home a model/girlfriend (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and weird things begin happening around the dress. The washing machine is destroyed while trying to clean it, the garment moves around by itself, and magically mends itself. But even after Sheila's nightmare is over, things continue when Reg (Leo Bill) is forced to wear the dress at his stag party.

Written and directed by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy), In Fabric is quite unlike, say, the 2018 remake of Suspiria, in that it seems to gets inside the giallo and horror genres, rather than simply paying homage. It's less interested in providing simple scares than it is in depicting the creeping logic of a nightmare. (Several scenes are devoted to characters actually describing their own creepy nightmares.)

It's an impressive achievement in tactile, intuitive filmmaking, finding a mesmerizing flow that rises above a typical monster movie. Yet In Fabric slips a little in its second half. Jean-Baptiste is so good, and so genuine, in the first half that when things switch over to the almost comically mismatched couple, meek, turkeylike Reg and bossy, chatty Babs (Hayley Squires), it begins to feel more like a parody.

Strickland has enough visual and aural themes to finally sew things together in a satisfying way, but the switch leaves the second half somewhat ill-fitting. If only someone could have taken the material in a little bit, this movie could have been even more shockingly satisfying.

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