Interview: Peter Strickland on his film 'In Fabric' | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, December 5th, 2020  

That dress is killer: Peter Strickland on his film ‘In Fabric’

Film released by A24 in select cities on December 6, on demand starting December 10

Dec 06, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Peter Strickland’s new film has taken a long road to the cinema, but it’s finally made it.

In Fabric, Strickland’s follow-up to 2015’s The Duke of Burgundy, had its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival as part of its Midnight Madness series. On the surface, the story about a killer dress that haunts those who pick it up is purely supernatural horror with stylistic flourishes straight out of a Dario Argento or Mario Bava film. But Strickland, while acknowledging the horror touches, had a different reference point in mind when writing the script: the bureaucratic malaise of office culture.

“For me, people talk about Giallo with this film but the most influential thing in a way was The Office, the Ricky Gervais thing,” Strickland said at TIFF in 2018. “Same town, Reading…I grew up in Reading. It’s about finding a cathartic element in work, which is boring. And the gift that Gervais was just laughter, that was cathartic, and you could laugh at all the frustration.”

The protagonists – the film is broken up into two segments – are bound by the bureaucracy and societal structure that rules their professional and personal lives. Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) in part one works at a bank and is facing constant roadblocks and micro-managing from her bosses Stash and Clive. Reg (Leo Bill) and Babs (Hayley Squires) are entering a fraught marriage and he’s forced to get a loan from Sheila’s bank. The constant thread tying the stories together is, naturally, the malevolent red dress. It’s a human narrative dipped into a ghost story.

“To me the whole film is quite logical. People are calling it weird, but I don’t see it as weird. The supernatural – yeah, that’s the absurdist element – but all the stuff around it is an exaggeration of what all of us have been through.”

At the center of the joint narrative is a mysterious department store that originally sells the dress to Sheila. From the moment Sheila first walks in, something seems off. Customers shuffle through the store around Sheila, appearing to aimlessly browse for the best deal possible. The shop is the source of the evil, but Strickland rejects the interpretation that it’s solely a criticism of consumer culture as a primary ethos.

“The consumerist finger-wagging isn’t really there in the film, it’s there as a background in terms of some of the other characters trying to barge through the doors. But the main characters, I’m fully with them, really. The danger is if you make the characters consumerists you’re losing the horror of random death. That’s the scary thing about horror for me when it’s random. When it becomes someone having sex and they’re killed for it, it’s like come on. I’m lost as a member of the audience.”

Around the time In Fabric debuted at TIFF, the term “elevated horror” was being bandied about to describe horror films with a more arthouse or prestigious bent like Hereditary or Get Out or It Comes at Night, and it’s a descriptor Strickland would prefer to see dead in the ground.

“Elevated genre somehow implies genre is unworthy. And I love genre,” Strickland said. “Where are you going with this? Are you going to have elevated social realism next? Elevated diversity? I don’t know, it’s bullshit. Elevated period drama?”

The finished product could have been much different, too, had it gone more according to plan. Strickland said that it took a lot of time to find the right space to serve as the department store that could also double as the primary set for other locations. It caused some headaches in production, but ultimately resulted in a multi-purpose solution.

“The tricky one was the department store. It’s not what we wanted. It’s very difficult to get what we want. I wanted Jackson’s, originally, which was the store I grew up with in Reading, my hometown. This film is set in a fictitious Reading, but we missed the boat by six weeks. They completely gutted the whole place out. Then we wanted this other place, but it was in legal limbo, so we just had to make the best out of (what we had) which offered other treats for us because it was a huge space and for a very low amount of money we could turn it into a studio and build a nightclub, the washing machine warehouse, the bank, the hospital. So in that sense it really served us.”

Additionally, the anthology structure was originally planned to go longer than two chapters, but limited funding kept the movie in its abbreviated form.

“It was going to go on and on and on, but no money so we stuck to two parts. Who knows how it would have turned out, better, worse, the same…it’s impossible to know really. I have reservations about everything I do.

“It’s a great privilege to do this job. I’ve spent many years seriously trying to make films, so to get to this position is a miracle really, so why am I still complaining about it? It’s beyond me.”

In Fabric is in select cinemas now.


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