Just when we thought that that 2019 was done with “strange” films, A24 does as A24 does and throws a curveball in the form of In Fabric. Fans of Dario Argento and Mario Bava will rejoice at Peter Strickland’s Italian Giallo-inspired film, but more casual moviegoers might leave scratching their heads, wondering what the hell they just watched. Both are appropriate responses because there’s not just one word that can sum up this experience. It’s funny, terrifying, surreal, and, at times, just full-on strange. As with other Giallo films, In Fabric leaves the narrative on the back-burner, focusing more on the grim atmosphere and scares.
In Fabric stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sheila, a reserved bank clerk who is looking for a fresh start. She lives with her grouchy, adult son who would rather spend time with his femme fatale-esque girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie). Trying to put herself out there after a divorce, Sheila buys a stunning red (artery red to be specific) dress on sale at Dentley & Soper’s—a discount department store with bewitching salesclerks that drives people mad with greed.
Pretty as it may be, the dress seems to have a sinister presence leaving Sheila with a bad rash and a destroyed washing machine. It turns out that Dentley & Soper is actually run by witches who like to perform sexual rituals on mannequins and literally entrance customers with their hefty bargains.
Strickland is not subtle with the capitalist themes but rather beats you over the head with them. The Dentley & Soper commercials are like entrancing spells, featuring the staff in a beckoning and welcome pose. Every morning brings shoppers waiting at the doors, eagerly waiting to stampede like staved animals looking for food. Strickland uses these themes to create disturbing imagery that enhances the eerie environment.
Jean-Baptiste holds her own in this surreal setting playing a grounded woman resisting the material temptation that is around her. Strickland paints Sheila’s work-space as a hellish environment, with two managers who are comically domineering. They reprimand her for using the bathroom for two minutes, pressure her into going bowling with the company, and criticize the firmness of her handshake. Yet despite the abuse, she still maintains her optimism. However, capitalism grabs hold of her and doesn’t let go until it’s too late.
Strickland sets up a compelling first half but completely shifts the tone in the middle. The transition is jarring, and it doesn’t manage to completely recover from the change. Everything from the color scheme to the humor shifts, and it turns into a completely different movie. This could have been an effective anthology series, but instead, the film is reduced to two different stories that don’t have enough time to flesh themselves out.
In Fabric will certainly be an acquired taste. Some will come out of it loving its idiosyncratic details, while others will want to put it back on the discount rack and forget it ever happened.