REVIEW: “Say No to the Dress!” – ‘In Fabric’ (2019)

What if the dress fits too well to say no?

This is precisely what happens in Peter Strickland’s horror-comedy In Fabric. A beautiful red dress with a deadly curse is passed from person to person during the department store, Dentley & Stoper’s, busy winter season. The film centers the story of Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who purchases the dress and wears it on a date. She notices something is wrong when the dress breaks her washing machine; seeming to have a mind of its own. Despite her efforts to return the dress to the store and escape its evil nature, it wreaks havoc in her life until the moment she passes it on.

Filled with avant-garde visuals and rapturous string music, the film is memorable for the experience of viewing. The dress itself, a bright shade of red, provides striking visuals throughout. In one scene, it floats three feet above the ground, flowing gently in the air. It is quietly creepy, yet oddly beautiful — as is the rest of the film. The slow pace lets the viewer sink into the scenes, allowing them to revel in the unusual spectacle. Although the plot loses steam when the dress passes from Sheila to other characters, the visual interest and deeper meaning keeps the audience engaged. 

The haunting beauty of the film mirrors the fashion industry — shiny on the outside, yet more sinister on the inside. Anyone who has worked in retail, was raised as a woman, or has any kind of non-normative body is all too aware of the problems of the fashion industry. The institution preys on women’s insecurities, and depends on their need to fulfill beauty standards by way of repeated purchasing of the latest trends. The dark motives of the industry are apparent in the inner workings of Dentley & Stoper. When the store is closed for the night, workers contort their bodies to fit onto the dumbwaiter into the gallows of the building. There, amongst fragmented mannequins and in-progress clothing, the clerks remove their wigs and engage in ritualistic sex acts with their boss. The store takes on an almost satanic tone, raising questions about the true intentions of the business, acting as an exaggerated portrayal of the dark side of the fashion world. 

In Fabric is an ambitious, visually captivating film about the horrors of the fashion industry and consumerism. Blending elements of B-horror, avant garde film, and comedy, Strickland creates a dazzling feature. Though the plot falters a bit toward the end, the entrancing production design and score make it worth the watch.

The A24 film premiered at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and is set to release on 28 June 2019 in the United Kingdom.