Review: Eccentric horror of ‘In Fabric’ and ‘Little Joe’ finds menace in everyday objects

Review: Eccentric horror of ‘In Fabric’ and ‘Little Joe’ finds menace in everyday objects

6.12.2019

Review: Eccentric horror of ‘In Fabric’ and ‘Little Joe’ finds menace in everyday objects

Two meticulously crafted new horror pictures, from Peter Strickland and Jessica Hausner, may put you off the color red for a while.

Both films, for their part, will produce their own strange and highly varied effects on the audience. “In Fabric” is the latest blissfully deranged B-movie homage from the British-born writer-director Peter Strickland, who over the past several years has become a witty and imaginative fetishist of various strains of exploitation cinema. His elaborate homages to the B- and C-grade entertainments of yesteryear go beyond simple mimicry or mockery into a kind of cracked celebratory pastiche. His “Berberian Sound Studio” (2012) was a loving tribute to the Italian

“In Fabric” neither achieves nor aims for a similar level of emotional depth. It’s invested entirely in the creepy-comic possibilities of its bizarre B-movie premise, and that’s more than enough. In a small town sometime during the 1990s, a divorced bank teller named Sheila (an excellent Marianne Jean-Baptiste) scans the personal ads while trying to put up with her teenage son, Vince (Jaygann Ayeh), and his impudent girlfriend, Gwen (Gwendoline Christie, “Game of Thrones”), who misses no opportunity to make Sheila feel like an intruder in her own home.

By the time Strickland gets around to showing us the nocturnal activities at Dentley & Soper’s, where Miss Luckmoore and her fellow clerks remove their wigs like Roald Dahl witches and have their way with a menstruating mannequin, “In Fabric” has basically morphed into an off-the-rack “Suspiria,” complete with a feverishly pulsing Cavern of Anti-Matter score and a densely layered soundtrack in which every effect — the rumble of a washing machine gone berserk, the snip-snip of a pair of scissors — registers with ominous force.

Alice Woodard (an excellent Emily Beecham), a scientist, has devised a genetically modified hothouse flower that, when properly nurtured, emits a scent that induces a state of euphoria in anyone who inhales it. For commercial reasons (she’s trying to protect her poppyright), she has rendered the plant sterile, which turns out to have been a serious mistake: Denied the ability to procreate, the plant has become demonically bent on its own survival at any cost. Get within sniffing range and it won’t just make you a happy camper; it will turn you into its own personal bodyguard.

From the beginning, the movie’s atmosphere feels weirdly zombified; with one tightly wound exception, everyone here speaks in even-keeled pleasantries. Martin Gschlacht’s camerawork, with its slow lateral pans, seems to be conducting its own surveillance, turning the lab into its own human petri dish. Katharina Wöppermann’s immaculately color-coded production design, each room and office accented by a different shimmering hue, seems to mock the characters, emoting with a boldness they cannot muster. The eccentric score by Teiji Ito and Markus Binder, dominated by wind instruments and bursts of percussion, adds to the growing sense of alienation.

R, for strong sexual content, including a scene of aberrant behavior, and some bloody images

Read more: Los Angeles Times

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