Runtime: 86 Minutes
Director/Writer: Claire Oakley
Stars: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stefanie Martini
By Caelyn O’Reilly
“Make Up” is the feature debut for English writer/director Claire Oakley. A horror/drama film about a teenage girl tangling with her own emotions and relationships in a Cornish caravan park as surreal occurrences start to untangle her sense of reality.
The film starts very promisingly, as protagonist Ruth (played by Molly Windsor) arrives at the caravan park in the middle of the night. The film starts building a surreal atmosphere early, as many of the side characters speak in slightly odd, unnatural dialogue in a way that feels intentional. Wide shots and lateral tracks are frequently used to add to this unsettling air as Ruth starts to believe that her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn) is cheating on her. These sinister undertones in early scenes build to outright horror imagery as Ruth’s world unravels. (Fair warning to potential viewers, maybe avoid this film if you’re particularly squeamish about fingernails).
While this building of tension is gripping, the payoff that all this surreal imagery builds to is severely lacking.
Throughout the film, Ruth befriends wild, wig-making young woman Jade (Stefanie Martini). Their interactions grow more intimate and potentially sexual as the narrative progresses. In the end, it is revealed that all this supernatural imagery that Ruth has been seeing – the elusive red-headed woman and the lesbian couple having particularly violent sex in the shower – is simply a metaphor for her burgeoning queer sexuality. (I guess you could say it was a red hair-ing… I’m sorry). I found this to be a disappointing twist, to say the least.
For one, it feels outdated to suggest that in modern-day Britain, the mere idea of being queer in itself is such a life-destroying revelation that it warrants an entire horror movie to build up to it. This same idea was used, albeit more subtextually, in the 35-year-old “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”, and being something other than straight is no longer the all-consuming obstacle to a happy life that it once was. Context would need to be provided to suggest why this is such a problem for this particular character but it never is. It’s just assumed that queerness is a horrifying revelation. While this twist doesn’t drown the film, it does undercut all the intrigue it had built up to that point and leaves a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.