IN FABRIC (2019, Peter Strickland)
Like being told a dirty joke by the smartest art professor at Oxford. Strickland knows all the rules and has all the tools, but he doesn’t care about any of them. He kind of sets this in the ’70s (based on the telephones, TVs, and some of the wardrobe we see), but other characters (like Vincent) are present-day concoctions, or maybe out of the ’80s. He introduces story strands and lets them dangle, or becomes disinterested in them. There’s an abrupt gear shift that happens about 80 minutes into a 115-minute movie. Every scene that might have been scary or emotionally effective is smothered by a dry, wicked sense of humor that threatens to turn the entire charade into a screwball comedy or satire.
On the margins, these rule breaks are exhilarating (my favorite is the subtle change in a character’s recorded outgoing answering machine message, which changes from robotic to crying after a major incident), but the central narrative is left gasping for air because Strickland is so busy being cheeky. He throws a cabal of witches in with a laundry repairman who can hypnotize anyone into a catatonic state by reciting washing machine parts; plus a series of blind dates who use the same pudding coupons, officious bosses with uptight rules, pursuit of discounts, Christmas department store sales demonizing the consumerist zombies populating the holidays, and mannequins with pubic hair. I’m not sure any of it amounts to anything more than a fucked-up tone poem, a BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO take on giallo, or a bullshit fever dream about a killer dress, but it almost doesn’t matter when it’s this consistently funny, surprising, and weird. MVPs are three-fold: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, forever talented; Fatma Mohamed having to negotiate the hysterical dialogue Strickland forces down her throat; and sound recordist Rob Entwistle (unknown if he’s related to The Who’s bassist, but probably?) whose foley work and audio mixing highlights the violence of scissors, the flowing of silk, and the breathing of the damned.