Nobody makes movies quite like Peter Strickland. With only a handful of films, he has established a visual aesthetic and set of thematic obsessions that carry forth from one dreamy work to another; each one becoming more visually dynamic and emotionally resonant. His most recent film, “In Fabric,” is ostensibly a haunted dress horror story, about a shimmery red number that has ominous consequences for those who slip it on. But it’s also more than that; a pitch-black satire, devastating character study (led by the beautiful work of Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and nightmarish freak-out. In short: it’s a Peter Strickland movie, through and through.
So it was a thrill to get to chat with Strickland, who discusses the origins of the project, a possible sequel, whether or not he’d be interested in doing a big-budget studio movie (Ben Wheatley, a producer on “In Fabric,” is about to saddle up for “Tomb Raider 2“) and his unlikely inspirations.
Where did the idea for a killer dress movie come from?
Shopping, really. Specifically shopping in second-hand stores where you’re really aware of death. A lot of the clothing comes from deceased people and sometimes you can smell, especially in the armpits, the people that have had it before you. Sometimes it’s only smells that you can go on. BO activates the imagination. Then you start wondering about the passage of clothing from person to person. That was the starting point but we got to explore not fashion so much but really visceral human responses to clothing, whether it’s fetishism, whether it’s body dysmorphia, really look at our desires, look at our anxieties, how we feel about ourselves. Sometimes in a euphoric sense, we can transform ourselves and escape existence and other times we are prisoners to ourselves. We were looking at a lot of very personal, private obsessions with clothing. It’s embarrassing, really. You have a character like Reg [Leo Bill], who is turned on by lady hosiery. He can’t really express it to his fiance. She’s dealing with body dysmorphia. He doesn’t get it at all. So there’s something quite sweet, in a way, a couple that doesn’t quite get each other. All of that I wanted to fit into this genre framework.
“B.O. activates the imagination”
How did you settle on that framework? Were there more stories?
There were a lot more. There were six when I first wrote it. I really wanted it to be an anthology. But then it was too long and everyone said, “We’re not going to give you the money to do it if it’s going to be that long.” It was a choice. Either I would make each story shorter or I would have to cut the characters. The problem with keeping all the characters and making every story shorter was they were much more disposable and I wanted the audience to really feel the deaths. So often in horror films, you don’t care. You want the shock with someone dying. When you spend an hour with someone and then kill them off, it’s a lot more upsetting. Sometimes I got more than I bargained for because people are quite angry when I kill [redacted for spoilers] off. It made it much more powerful for me to do that.
And when you spend more time with them, you bypass the risk of it seeming like an anti-consumerist message, because there’s not. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Marianne’s character going into a shop to buy a dress. If you live with her, you see her frustrations with work and frustrations at home and you get it. Of course, you want her to escape.
Were the stories in other time periods?
No, it was pretty much at the same time. There was some backstory in one of the installments but it was going from character to character. If the film does well, I would be open to doing a sequel and exploring other elements of it. So, yeah, I have to see what happens with the film first.