Atmospheric, sinister and devilishly surreal by turns, “In Fabric” feels like the kind of creepy, abstract menace which used to call for irregularities to be handled by the forces controlling each dimension, albeit one where transuranic heavy elements may not be used.
Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a recently divorced bank teller visits department store Dentley and Soper’s to buy a dress for an upcoming date. While browsing, her attention is drawn to a beautiful, flowing red dress which the mysterious store clerk Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) convinces her to buy. But before long the dress begins to exert an unsettling and malign influence on Shiela and those she loves.
Exquisitely tailored in a seventies arthouse style, the direction, editing and colour scheme evoke a particular period while simultaneously making clear its contemporary setting, leveraging the uneasy anachronisms into a sense of creeping disconnection and atmospheric unease. There’s a claustrophobic quality to the shots without ever making the settings feel small and cheap, with light and shadows, in particular, being used to sublime effect.
At times it feels like “Suspiria” in a department store and while the idea of a malevolent item of clothing is in and of itself silly, in the dreamlike ambience of the movie, it never feels anything less than sinister. Archly inscrutable, the film offers us an apparent coven of witches who seem to run the department store in order to encourage unwary shoppers into bargains of a more Mephistophelian nature than they may be aware of, counterpointed by an equally outré pair of Bank Managers (played by Julian Barratt and Steve Oram) who seem to spend their time seeking stories and memories as spiritual collateral for the prosaic personal finance products they find themselves hawking.
As a metaphor for the toxic and destructive effects of fast fashion, it’s far sharper and more incisive than anything the floundering “Greed” managed to deliver and as a treatise on the dehumanising effects of everyday commercialism on the soul, it’s a potent if occasionally abstruse allegory.
It suffers slightly from a structure which aims for anthology but falls short by having perhaps one too few stories woven into the fabric of the demonic dress’ journey. With Sheila’s ill-fated dating life and increasingly fractious relationship with her son (Jaygann Ayeh) and his girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie) handing over to the tale of soon-to-be-married washing machine repairman Reg (Leo Bill), it may seem odd to complain that a movie which occasionally moves at a glacial pace and is already pushing two hours long needed a longer third act but this is one sewing pattern where I had no desire to cut corners.