One of the most unique and original films to come out this year is Peter Strickland’s horror-comedy, IN FABRIC. The film, which stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, and Gwendoline Christie centers around a lonely woman who, after being recently separated from her husband, purchases a beautiful red dress that transforms her life. However, what she doesn’t know is that the dress is cursed with an unstoppable evil that threatens anyone who crosses its path.
For the release of the film, I had the opportunity to speak with the acclaimed writer/director Peter Strickland. During our chat, we discussed everything from the inspiration for the film to the design of the dress as well as his desire to have had the film be an anthology.
To start things off, can you talk about what inspired IN FABRIC?
Peter Strickland: I love shopping so I guess in my childhood certain department stores that I used to be dragged to were very strange and theatrical and flamboyant, there was a great sense of mystery in those places. I was watching these M.R. James adaptations quite recently that BBC did and I loved the uncanny feel and I wanted to do something like that. I wanted to get away from the misty beach and the house in the country and just find a really prosaic setting and I think the sales and the shops felt very interesting.
The dress itself is a character in the film. When it came to the design of it, did you have a lot of input?
Peter Strickland: I had a great deal. I was mainly talking about, one, how it would move in the air. Jo Thompson was doing the design and we would talk about what materials it needed. I was also talking to her about not necessarily the actual design itself but more the type of dress that you would buy in those shops. It’s kind of middle class, aspirational, aspiring to elegance, imagining you are going to some formal event, but not quite getting it right. These are not stores on Bond Street in London, these were kind of suburban stores. The dress had to feel slightly off, but not too off, just a little bit.
When it came to the more supernatural moments involving the dress, were you able to pull that off via practical effects?
Peter Strickland: It was all practical, we only used CGI with tree leaves because [the film] took place in the winter and we shot in the autumn. But the dress was just old-fashioned wires. With the scene at night, that was just a wind machine barrel – we just put the dress in front of it and pressed the on button. We tried a bunch of things to get that right, we even hung the dress from a drone, but it didn’t work, it just looked too much like it was hanging off a rack. We needed it to look like a jellyfish or amoeba, so the best way was with this wind machine shooting up into the air.
What’s interesting about this film is we get to see two very different characters interacting with the dress. Was there ever a moment when you thought about making the film into an anthology?
Peter Strickland: Oh yeah, it was an anthology at the beginning. There were 6 victims but nobody wants to fund it, it was too long, so I cut it in half, really. In my mind, it always was going to be going from character to character to character. What I could have done, I could have cut each story down and squeezed six characters in two hours but the problem you have doing that is you aren’t spending enough time with them. You don’t get to care about them that way. I really wanted to have a lot of affection for these characters. I’m not punishing them either, the dress isn’t this avenging angel, it’s just random bad luck. When you spend time with them you understand why Sheila (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) buys that dress. Of course, all that frustration at work and at home, why wouldn’t she buy that dress? There is a satire on consumerism that’s more to do with the background of the film, with the rioting and looting and all the cues and adverts, that are there and, hopefully, in a playful way, not in a didactic way.
You were able to pull off the horror and humor aspects quite seamlessly. How difficult was that to do?
Peter Strickland: I would say it’s difficult. I don’t know, I kind of enjoy it when other films, maybe not even horror, but something like Fargo, shows this incredible tragedy in the film but is also very funny. I think there’s space for both in a film. Just because you can cue it doesn’t mean you don’t care about the characters. It doesn’t mean you don’t take the tragedy seriously or the horror. When I went into writing [IN FABRIC] it’s not as if I – well, I had a plan for certain things, of course, but in terms of the tone of it, the tone was really hard to kind of gage in advance.
Some of the themes presented in the film had to do with consumerism and obsession. That said, was there a theme that was important for you to get across to the audiences?
Peter Strickland: I wanted to look at this very visceral reaction to clothing in terms of how you feel when you put something on. How you can somehow feel transformed or how you feel the opposite where you hate your body. [There are themes] such as body dysmorphia and fetishism as well. I just wanted to look at very private, visceral reactions to clothing, that was my interest.
IN FABRIC is now available on digital (with an unrated cut available on Amazon and as an iTunes extra). For more on the film, check out our review here.