Tuesday, December 3, 2019

With IN FABRIC, Peter Strickland is back with more great ideas but only so-so follow-through

Offhand I can't think of another current filmmaker whose movies combine exotic erotica and creepy behavior in any more memorable fashion than those Peter Strickland. His Berberian Sound Studio combined audio for a giallo movie with an all-out dissolution of character; The Duke of Burgundy offered S&M, butterflies and the very bizarre world of all women; and now IN FABRIC he gives us a sexy red dress that tortures and then murders its wearers, and perhaps the hottest and most perverse sex scene of the decade, involving a nude and prone mannequin. You aficionados are hooked already, right?

Fair enough, but be warned: You'll have to put up with Mr. Strickland's (the filmmaker is shown at left) predilection for very slow pacing and some tiresome repetition.

Here, in fact, he has the naughty dress pull a series of nasty stunts on its first victim (which turns out to actually be its second), and then he parades this same series all over again with victims number three and four. Please.

A genuinely sophisticated filmmaker would know better and do things a little differently. And yet Strickland sure can thrill us with his inclusion of gorgeous, outre sets; creepy ideas; and sexual stunts.

The "fashion" shop (above) in which much of the movie takes place is a wonder of glossy, gleaming 1930s and 1950s off-kilter glamor, complete with that old-fashioned and fun pneumatic tubing used in the department stores of yore.

Visually the movie is mostly a treat, as you'll have expected if your seen the filmmaker's other work. He also casts his leading characters well: Borgen's Sidse Babett Knudsen in Burgundy, Toby Jones (giving a terrific performance) in Berberian. Here, he uses Secrets and Lies' Marianne Jean- Baptiste (above), and she proves as watchable as ever as a newly single mom put upon by her employers, her shit-ass son (the very hot Jaygann Ayeh, below), his callow girlfriend, and now this homicidal dress.

Strickland's film makes yet another pass at indicting our increasingly dumbed-down consumer culture (Dawn of the Dead did it earlier and 2016's Nocturama one hell of a lot more stylishly), and has at least, in that dress idea, come up with an original-though-not-terribly-interesting "villain." He also does a little indicting of bankers and banks, via mom's sleazy/screwball employers, personified by (below, left and right respectively) Steve Oram and Julian Barratt.

The writer/director also casts his supporting roles well, and each is performed with the requisite relish. That's Gwendoline Christie, below, receiving some oral pleasure from her aforementioned hot boyfriend, as mom watches with, hmmmm, a combination of pleasure and envy (yes, another perverse and over-the-top sex scene).

The film's next round of victims, an about-to-be-married couple, are played with nice comic brio by Leo Bill (below, relentlessly fucking) and Hayley Squires (beneath and putting up with it). These two, who appear maybe halfway along, add some needed humor to the proceedings.

In a most interesting casting coup, the aforementioned Sidse Babbet Knudsen (below) appears in the film as the dress' initial victim, seen only via newspaper and catalog ads -- which leads TrustMovies to suspect that this noteworthy actress may have had a much larger role, one that might now be on what we used to call (pre-videocam films) the cutting room floor.

As it is, the film is already two (too-lengthy) hours long, and more, no matter how good Ms Knudsen might have been -- see Borgen to lean just how good she can be -- would have been a surfeit indeed. Overall, there is plenty here for film buffs to savor but not, I think, for more mainstream moviegoers, even those who claim to love comic horror films, which In Fabric pretty much/sort of is.

From A24, the movie opens this Friday, December 6, in limited release, in 25 venues -- from New York to Orlando, L.A., DC, and elsewhere across the country. (Shown above is the impressive actress Fatma Mohamed, who plays, perhaps quite literally, the saleslady from hell.)

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