In Fabric 2018 ****

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A24 will be releasing the latest Peter Strickland opus in the U.S. later this year; for fans of his previous ventures post 2009’s Katalin Varga, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy, it’s an enticing prospect. While Ben Wheatley’s output has been variable (Free Fire and High Rise were let-downs), Strickland’s work has been remarkably consistent, and this bizarre horror/comedy reveals no drop in quality. Wheatley executive produces here, a strange, lyrical, poetic, blood in the kitchen-sink drama about a killer dress. Seen slinking around the floor or hovering above the characters, it’s a slinky red number, initially fancied by downtrodden divorcee Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to give her confidence for some dates. The department store Sheila buys it from is an odd place, with mannequins, pervy staff and vamping sale-women who speak in strange, loquacious tongues. This initial set-up, however, proves deceptive, as the story switches unexpectedly and focuses more on the minutiae of washing machine repair for the second hour; Strickland has always been an eclectic bird, and while there’s elements of Amicus and Tigon films here, as before, the writer/director brews them up into a stew that’s heady, baffling and hugely entertaining for the open minded. And if that’s not enticement enough, Gwendoline Christie has a brief but memorable role where she burns up the screen as the arrogant lover of Sheila’s son, Julian Barratt does a nice comedic turn as an HR man, and Sidse Babett Knudsen knocks it out of the park as Jill the sales-lady. British audiences haven’t rushed to In Fabric, but it’s likely to be a cult film from the ages; In Fabric is well acted, sumptuously mounted and designed, and defiantly weird and wonderful in a way that will leaving you talking for hours/days/months afterwards. If nothing else, you could always throw a great fancy-dress party in the style of be these characters; just think twice about what you want to wear.

In Fabric is in UK cinemas from June 28th 2019 and can be streamed via the Curzon website.

https://www.curzonartificialeye.com/in-fabric/

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The Duke of Burgundy 2015 ****

duke-of-burgundy-the-2014-004-sidse-babett-knudsen-chiara-danna-bicycyle-silhouette-1000x750Peter Strickland’s follow-up to the similarly cryptic Berbarian Sound Studio feels like a homage to 1970’s erotica, yet packs considerably more punch that the genre it takes its visual cues from- there’s little or no sex here, but the whole enterprise is drenched in a steamy, near fetid sense of anticipation. Chiara d’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen play two women locked in a sadomasochistic relationship, with only the appearance of a few confused neighbours and a comely bed-salesman to disturb the fun and games, which involves castigating each other for poorly folding underwear, locking each other up in wooden bedframes and being ‘human toilets’ for each other. Surreal touches, like the use of dummies to simulate extras, suggest a serious pastiche rather than a parody and point to non-literal meanings; The Duke of Burgundy’s title comes from a rare butterfly, never glimpsed in the film, and Strickland’s film is a rare erotic drama that sticks to its task with commendable brio.

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Berberian Sound Studio 2012 ***

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Writer/director Peter Strickland’s low-budget horror was released to praise and confusion in 2012; lacking in any real incident, it was something of a turn-off for genre fans, but it’s a strange little film that rewards patience. Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a put-upon sound engineer who unwisely takes a job in Italy in the 1970’s, where he’s all-at-sea amongst sexual and studio politics. Although Strickland’s film opens with the credits of the film Gilderoy is working on, The Equestrian Vortex,  the audience is left to guess what kind of content it has; as he slices up cabbages under microphones and recoils from the macho producers, it’s clear that Gilderoy is slipping into a private and personal hell. If you can get your head around the fact that nothing much happens, Strickland’s film is an atmospheric and disturbing meditation on the timidness of the British male abroad, well played by Jones.