‘In Fabric’ Presents a Mixed Bag (FILM REVIEW)


Fans of the 70’s arthouse horror scene will be immediately drawn into the world of In Fabric. Director Peter Strickland has fashioned (um…no pun intended) a visually intriguing tale of fashion and witchcraft in this bizarre story that feels something like if Dario Argento’s Suspiria had been set in the world of couture style rather than ballet. With its strong aesthetic and creepy synth score, it almost feels like a rejuvenation of the cerebral horror of decades past.

Almost, but not quite. In Fabric is, in a way, a tale of two films; the first one is a striking and unsettling descent into the bizarre and the second is, well, unfortunately also a part of the movie. The film is framed as two distinct stories, with the first coming to an unsettling end before it careens into the second, wildly less interesting tale that drags on far too long and accomplishes little its predecessor couldn’t have with a bit more finessing.

It feels a lot like Strickland had a basic idea but couldn’t decide on a direction for the narrative and chose to, instead, mash them together into a kind of anthology feature. It doesn’t quite work. Still, there’s enough here to delight the sensibilities of fans of this brand of off-beat weirdness that what’s great in the film distinctly overshadows the not-so-great.

The idea in question is that of a cursed dress, the origins of which are hinted at but never really explained, as it falls into the hands of new owners. The first finds the divorced Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) purchasing the dress for a date only to be beset by all manner of bizarre hauntings. The second follows the sheepish repairman Reg (Leo Speaks) being forced to wear the dress during his stag party.

Both tales feature plenty of strange scares and visceral terrors, but the too-arty-for-its-own-good sensibility of the film wears thin the longer it goes on. Especially jarring is the fact that by the time we’re introduced to Reg we’re already so attached to Sheila that the change feels unwelcome. The second half of the film does precious little to justify its existence as it gives us no information or purpose that we didn’t already know (or have figured out).

There’s no doubt that the film would’ve worked much, much better had the focus remained on Sheila through its run time. At 90 minutes, Sheila’s story would’ve left us with a deeply unsettling bit of macabre absurdity that may have led to In Fabric becoming something of a modern classic. Instead, the film veers and becomes a too-long exercise in repetition that never regains its footing.

Still, it’s also hard to deny the sheer scope of Strickland’s style. Visually the film never fails to stun and when the narrative is on point it’s one of the creepier films of the year. Even with my misgivings about In Fabric, I can’t say I totally disliked it. While the mixed-bag nature of the film was truly disappointing, there is enough here to satisfy fans of the bizarre and the creepy atmosphere Strickland presents is, quite often, stunning.

There may not be a need to run out and see this one as soon as you can, but if you’re in the mood for a weird scare then you can certainly do worse. In the end, the ultimate disappointment is that it ends up being just okay when it starts off with the potential to be great. It’ll be interesting to see what Strickland can accomplish with a honing of his sensibilities but, for the time being, we’re still left with a film with more good than bad that will satisfy the itches of anyone into the genre.

In Fabric is now playing in select theaters.

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