It’s no secret that Suspiria is one of my favorite films of all time, with the 2018 remake just ever so slightly edging out the 1977 original thanks to its expansion on the film’s themes and plot to make something a bit more cohesive take shape. Still, there’s no question that Dario Argento’s original film is the far more stylish of the two. Utilizing bright jewel tones and deep saturation and contrast, it brought a visual life not seen in horror films at the time and it still remains revolutionary to this day. This Giallo approach to horror has been carried forth by many, inferior films since its inception, but they just can’t touch Suspiria with a ten-foot pole. What’s fabulous about Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is that while the obvious inspiration from these Giallo films is abundantly present from the first frame of the film to the final violin hiss of the last shot, Strickland seeks to craft something strangely modern out of something so inspired by vintage filmmaking, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.
In Fabric is what I like to call a “semi-anthology” film, in that the film has more than one perspective, though it lacks the grand nature of a traditional anthology. It’s just after Christmas in Thames Valley in England and the post-holiday department store sales are in full swing. The eerie, but popular Dentley and Soper department store is running some of the best sales in the city, which attract the eye of Sheila Woodchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a middle-aged divorcée preparing for her first date post-divorce. She finds an attractive red dress that she purchases at the behest of the spectral, yet magnetic sales associate Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) for her ultimately unsuccessful date. As the days pass on, she begins to find rashes on her skin, and unfortunate circumstances befall her that directly point to the red dress. Soon, she, among others, begin to realize that the dress from the creepy department store has a seriously sinister spirit inhabiting it.
Okay, sure, In Fabric sounds absurd on paper, but there’s a deliberate nature with the film that turns the ridiculous nature that often plagued films like this in the 1970s/80s into something far more profound and frightening. In Fabric plays as a cautionary tale about the possessive nature of consumerism in modern society and how the product itself can have just as much of a life of as its owner does. It’s a story we’ve all experienced before, with the desired product of our gaze becoming more of a force than anything else in our lives, and how the expectation of possessing it often does not match the reality of owning it. It’s merely a by-product of a capitalist society that can both motivate and deteriorate productivity for the sake of consumerism. Of course, In Fabric takes the more heavy-handed approach in turning such a statement into a B-movie with vintage shades of Giallo and films such as Christine, anthropomorphizing inanimate objects with sinister spirits, but it’s a combination that meshes together really well, making In Fabric one of my favorite horror films of the year.
What’s surprising about In Fabric, though, is just how damn funny it is. There were moments where I truly cackled at the comedic timing, even in some of its darker scenes. It’s funnier than all of the other “comedies” I saw at Film Fest 919 and that’s saying something. It is very dry, British humor, so there’s a chance that American audiences might not connect with the more curt, matter-of-fact humor, but that doesn’t make its approach to comedy any less clever. Still, it’s not funny because it’s such a silly concept. It’s funny because the film embraces the ridiculousness of consumerism and the effects it brings along with it. This is a very deliberate move on the part of Strickland and it pays off in spades with a film that masters two tones really wonderfully.
The film, much like the films it riffs off of, is complemented fabulously by a musical score from German synth group Cavern of Anti-Matter which evokes a sense of wonder, horror, and calm reassurance scene-by-scene. It echoes much of the beats from Goblin’s score to Suspiria in that not everything really makes sense from an objective standpoint. It’s not the type of music you associate with a horror film like this, but all the same, it works to a quite hypnotic degree.
In Fabric has divinely feminine energy about itself that is surprisingly nuanced for both a sensory-heavy horror film and by a film written and directed by a man. It’s a film that effectively skewers the more ridiculous elements of the modern feminine experience in a way that feels very personal and intimate. It delivers upon the horrors of being a woman in a world where, oftentimes, far more incompetent men dictate the way women can dress and behave and displays the dangers of giving into that sort of patriarchal dominance. It’s surprisingly profound in many moments and uses both comedic and horrific elements to show off this message.
There does come a point about halfway through the film where In Fabric takes a hard left turn that threw me for a bit of a loop. It felt like an anti-climactic shift in tone that it eventually recovered from, but made a portion of the second act of the film feel a bit less interesting than the rest. It almost makes the case for In Fabric to work as an HBO miniseries than anything else, which, while it doesn’t detract from the film itself, definitely stayed in my mind as the film went on.
As I left In Fabric, I was enthused. This is a film that’s a technical marvel to behold and that’s as equally scary as it is funny, of which it is both in an almost immeasurable degree. The film does take a turn that reduces the impact of the film’s second act but it comes back together for a very engaging and memorable final act that has stuck with me for quite some time. There isn’t much else to be said about In Fabric that wouldn’t go in a spoiler review. This is the type of film that you need to enter with the least amount of knowledge possible, to which I feel I’ve already spoiled you of some of the experience by talking about it at all. I’m aware the film attracts a very niche audience, for which I am right in the thick of, but for what it offers, In Fabric is a vibrantly zany combination of Suspiria, Final Destination, and The Neon Demon that is just as fun as it sounds on paper.
In theaters December 6th, 2019.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5