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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) In Fabric - Review

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In Fabric is a hypnotic, dreamlike experience, feeling like what would happen if Dario Argento, David Lynch and Ben Wheatley had a baby in a unique blend of cynical anti-consumerism and slasher horror that really left an impact on me. Peter Strickland’s film may be the first time I’ve seen anything by the director, but he definitely caught my attention with this film emerging as one of the most surreal experiences of the London Film Festival so far, and a welcome diversion from the rest of what the film has had to offer. My curiosity was piqued when I learnt that the nearly-always reliable A24 had picked up the film for its North American distribution, and given that everybody who I spoke to about this film seemed to be looking forward to it in the days before its press screening, I knew it would be something that I would have to see even if it came after the heavy double doses of Suspiria and They Shall Not Grow Old. And I wasn't let down at all.

Set in a small town in England over the winter season with Christmas approaching, one shop in particular is the talk of the town due to its extravagant sales discounts that it provides. When one woman, Marianne Jean-Baptisite’s Shelia, buys a red dress that is a few sizes too small for her, she finds out that there is something decidedly off about it after wearing it on a date night with a stranger who she meets through a newspaper ad. The last owner died when walking across a street (who happened to be the model for the only copy), it doesn’t like to be put through a washing machine, and a scar appears on her chest after wearing it for the first time. And dogs viciously attack the dress when they get near it. All signs point to something suspicious going on with the dress, and it soon becomes apparent that Gwen is not wrong with what she finds.

The giallo feel that In Fabric has to it is something to be marvelled. Its tantalising, entrancing score pulls you in, and the film itself manages to make excellent use of colours, especially red, in an eerie unsettling way. The direction weaves its magic as the film gradually escalates to its bombastic ending, which echoes the climatic scenes from Ben Wheatley's High-Rise and it's no surprise to find out that he was involved in the film as an executive producer. It's also cool to see Wheatley link up with Hayley Squires again, after Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. Squires herself is a fantastic actress, so her appearing in more films is always a good sign.

Surprisingly funny at times, In Fabric won the crowd over with some unexpected sources of laughter and it’s easy to see why. Debuting without a trailer it left plenty to the imagination, full of unexpected twists and turns, keeping the audience unaware of what's going to happen next whilst at the same time manipulating the rules of the world to lull them into a sense of false comfort. Just when you think everything is going to be fine, something bad happens, and then you're left questioning who you can really trust.

Nobody is safe in this film and it is a drama of two halves focusing on a bunch of characters whose lives are heavily affected by the involvement of the of the stunningly designed red dress. The dress itself is a source of nightmares for every character who wears it, and watching everything unfold really made sure that it was not going to leave my mind anytime soon. Whilst perhaps the second half is not quite as polished as the first in terms of storyline, it did allow for the incredibly talented Hayley Squires to shine as Babs, whose husband-to-be Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) receives the dress on a stag do when he ends up covered in alcohol. Neither Babs or Reg are prepared for the consequences that follow, and they soon find themselves into a familiar predicament that Gwen found herself in.

If you’re looking for a surreal experience that echoes David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and emerges as it’s own unique voice in the art-house horror genre, then In Fabric is a real treat. It comes highly recommended as one of the best under-the-radar films of the festival so far, and should be worth checking out when it gets a general release.

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