Make Up *****
Starring: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stefanie Martini
Director: Claire Oakley
While Britain mostly looks to Hollywood for its cinema, there are some things the Brits do incredibly well. There’s something so disturbingly atmospheric about the doom and gloom of a British winter that makes the perfect backdrop for a film about the darker recesses of the human mind. And in this romantic psychological thriller - yes, that is a thing - we see Britain at its most bleak.
Ruth (Windsor) has left home - with or without her parents’ permission is unclear - to live with her boyfriend (Quinn) at the caravan park where he works in Cornwall. The site is preparing to close and the couple are vying to to stay over-winter as the deserted park’s caretakers. But when Ruth finds a long red hair on her boyfriend’s clothing, she begins to suspect him of having an affair with Jade (Martini), a friendly and charismatic coworker. Her suspicions turn to obsession as her quest for the truth turns into a voyage of self-discovery as she is reluctantly drawn to the person she wants to hate.
This story of distrust becomes much more about the awakening of her own feelings, manifest through a multitude of horror-sequence trickery; jump scares, body mutilation woven alongside elongated sequences of painfully rising tension. We follow Ruth as she breathlessly battles with her inner demons, terrified of them jumping out on her in the dark. The metaphors here are so strong that we feel that physical terror along with her, staring out the window of her caravan into the bleak night.
There is some tremendous ambiguity with some of the imagery, seeming to play with time and space. Is it paranoia that has left her so bereft? Or is it her encounters with Jade? This is a coming-of-age story but rinsed of the joy, feeling like the seasonal opposite of My Summer Of Love. To liken Ruth’s sexual awakening with trauma feels almost homophobic, but somehow it works, realising her shock with both physical and mental torture. The denouement justifies the journey, but while travelling with her, it’s just as torturous for us too as the film toes the line of such an honest internal battle.
Across misty mornings that bleach scenic Cornwall of all its beauty, there is an antiquated loneliness too, with a remote and disparate community thrust together. They celebrate the beginning of winter with a bonfire, with Ruth’s breathless awakening emerging druid-like from the flickering shadows of the firelit dunes. The cinematography is laden with heavy fogs and windy beaches, with these characters feeling minuscule against the changing of the season. But, just like Jack Torrance in The Shining, it’s not what’s outside that they need be afraid of. It’s a unique take on a sexual awakening and it works flawlessly.
Molly Windsor is magnificently poe-faced as she pendulums between jealousy and curiosity. Small but very present, she endows an intensity to the role that makes it feel like Black Swan in a trailer park. Director Oakley is a name to watch, because this is clearly the debut of a true auteur. You simply have to watch this film.