If I told you about a horror movie featuring a haunted dress, you might think I’m talking about a campy, predictable practical-effects slasher from somewhere in the 1980s. Well, you’d be wrong. In Fabric is about the farthest thing I could picture from that description, although it is a movie about a haunted, murderous dress. Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, In Fabric left an audience of festival-goers shocked at just how different a “haunted item” movie can be. Though practical effects were used, this film was certainly not campy. And it was absolutely anything but predictable.
Let me start this review with two caveats. First of all, I considered this movie an “art house” film. Second, I’m not at all an expert on what makes something an “art house” film. Much of my review will touch on the niche feel that this movie had, but just know that it’s not coming from someone who’s thoroughly studied niche films. If that doesn’t turn you off immediately, then read on.
In Fabric tells two stories over the course of one film, both dealing with a person who has been cursed with ownership of a haunted dress. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Sheila, a divorced mother whose immature adult son lives with her. Sheila is looking to impress a date, so she goes to a high-end department store to buy something unique. This is no ordinary department store, however, which I will explain in a moment. Sheila finds a stunning red dress, which she purchases and brings home with her. Strange and dangerous things begin happening all over her house, and it seems that the dress is behind all of them. Sheila soon realizes that the dress isn’t just not what she wanted, it might actually be evil.
In the second half of the film, the story switches focus to Reg, played by Leo Bill. Reg encounters the dress during his bachelor party, when one of his groomsmen forces him to wear it on the dance floor. Reg‘s life also begins to start coming apart, with Final Destination-esque mishaps happening all around him and his loved ones. As with everyone who’s ever owned the dress, every day seems to bring Reg farther into a strange and explicable world. One he may never leave.
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The horror of this film comes from two main places. First, as I mentioned earlier, is the department store that sells the dress. There are dark, pagan things that happen behind the scenes when the doors of the store close each night, things that belong in a Wicker Man than they do a Wal-Mart. Fatma Mohamed delivers a spectacular performance as Miss Luckmoore, one of the saleswomen that works on the department store floor. She is spooky and funny, speaking in ethereal and alien monologues that had the whole theater nervously chuckling each time she was on screen. Richard Bremmer plays the quietly menacing Mr. Lundy, owner of the department store and dark overseer of its actions. Though it’s never quite explained what happens at the store, there’s clearly some weird stuff going on. Weird stuff that leads to the creation of the haunted dress.
And it’s the haunted dress that makes up the rest of this film’s terror. Let me tell you this, I can’t remember the last time I was truly as afraid of an inanimate object as I was of the dress in In Fabric. Using only practical effects, the filmmakers make the dress a kind of ever-present specter, slowly dragging itself across a room when characters aren’t looking or hovering creepily above the characters as they sleep. It is as gothic as it is ghastly and weirdly beautiful. I’d take that over a forgettable CGI monster any day.
“Each frame is a masterpiece of light, color, and set design.”
As you might have already gathered, this film’s focus was definitely on its visual aspects. In some ways, that was great. Director Peter Strickland created a world that’s part JC Penney’s catalogue, part Necronomicon. Its giallo influences are very clear from the beginning. From the second the title cards start, you know exactly what kind of film you’re getting into. It is at the same time ornately beautiful and tinged with decay, like a music box found on the Titanic. From a visual moviemaking standpoint, this film is an absolute miracle. Each frame is a masterpiece of light, color, and set design. If that sounds like the reason you watch movies, then In Fabric will absolutely not disappoint.
However, I think the film’s visual glory came at the expense of a strong plot. There were several scenes that I felt were disturbing and beautiful, but was unsure of their reason for being there. Also, the switch between Sheila‘s story and Reg‘s was, in my opinion, kind of jarring. It felt like we were introduced to Sheila and encouraged to invest in her only to move on to a different story. I might be alone in thinking this, but it also had the effect for me of making the film feel pretty long. I’ll admit that by the end I was checking the time occasionally. All that said, I still liked the ending a great deal. I just wished it took me there a little faster.
In a weird way, I think that this movie is a lot like its main antagonist, the haunted dress. It is stunning, reminiscent of the past, and clearly structured by a masterful hand. At the same time, it might also not be for everyone. If I’m being honest, I think I might not have fit into this movie as much as I might’ve liked. However, I will say that the way this movie is closest to its antagonist is this: you can’t get rid of it. Part of Reg and Sheila‘s stories are trying to dispose of the dress, and to their horror, they cannot. Just like their experience with the dress, I can’t get rid of this movie. It’s been on my mind and in my conversations for days now, and I think that anyone watching it, whether they like it or not, will have the same experience.
“[In Fabric] is a lot like its main antagonist, the haunted dress. It is stunning, reminiscent of the past, and clearly structured by a masterful hand.”
For more Tribeca Film Festival reviews, check out what we at NOFS had to say about Something Else or Come to Daddy, both brilliant horror films in their own ways. For more reviews in general, check out our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages to see what pops up. And for all your horror movie reviews, news, and interviews, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.