Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: Jennifer Sheridan
Writer: Matt Stokoe
Stars: Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe, Olive Gray
By Simon Whitlock
“Rose: A Love Story” is the feature debut for director Jennifer Sheridan, about a married couple living an isolated existence in the woods near a little town in the north of England. Sam (Matt Stokoe) is a man whose life is lived in service to his loving wife Rose (Sophie Rundle) as she struggles with a mysterious illness. Rose’s days are spent indoors, with only a typewriter and a radio handy to keep her occupied in the couple’s dimly lit cabin, while Sam enjoys a separate daily life filled with light, hunting and gardening, and making sure the many locks installed on the outside of their house are secured.
It’s this last point which first suggests something wrong with the couple’s seemingly peaceful life away from civilisation. Before long, Sam comes into contact with another person for a routine supply run which goes wrong, which causes a now-desperate Sam to head into town to get what’s needed; a sequence which concludes with a violent act of retribution.
“The film’s use of light, and the absence thereof, fills almost every scene with a claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere which is used to great effect by Sheridan.”
Stokoe, who also wrote the film, fills his character with a quiet intensity and paranoia, the polar opposite to Rundle’s Rose. She is calm, sympathetic and almost accepting that her condition isn’t likely to improve before the end of this story, yet defiant to let it change her.
The film’s use of light, and the absence thereof, fills almost every scene with a claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere which is used to great effect by Sheridan. There is one moment of shadow-play against a set of ultraviolet lights involving one character, which works both as a fantastic piece of visual storytelling, and as one of the film’s most unsettling images. This claustrophobic feeling only increases with the arrival of Amber (Olive Gray), who almost literally stumbles into Sam and Rose’s home after a surprise injury, and it’s through Amber’s eyes which the film gradually reveals the horrific reality of what the couple have been living with all this time.
“Sheridan and Stokoe may not have intended it, but “Rose” has become the most relevant horror film this year.”
Up until Amber’s arrival though, the film rarely if ever shies away from the love story at its centre. Rundle and Stokoe have a fantastic chemistry together as Rose and Sam, and they perfectly capture the unshakable, pure love that the married couple have for each other, despite the impossible situation in which they find themselves, and shown in the difficult – at times dangerous – choices they make to ensure one another’s safety.
This may be the most accurate representation of a long-term relationship in film this year, and a heart-breaking one at that; the inevitably doomed promises that Rose and Sam make to each other of a better life once they are free of the disease weigh heavily over the film’s final act. It’s sadly fitting that a film like “Rose: A Love Story” was released in a year which has been so dominated by the need to isolate for fear of a deadly disease. If there’s anything worth saving from 2020 though, this film deserves to be high on anyone’s list. Sheridan and Stokoe may not have intended it, but “Rose” has become the most relevant horror film this year.