It’s the indie film maker’s location of choice – of late, at least. Seaside towns of the less than picturesque variety, with little in the way of employment or entertainment, have been the backdrop for recent films like Perfect 10 and Make Up and the forthcoming Saint Maud. Sunshine is sparse and there’s not much to do apart from get drunk or high and have casual sex. It goes without saying that the stories they tell have the same downbeat quality.
And it’s the setting for Nocturnal, the debut from director/writer Nathalie Biancheri, a small Yorkshire resort, the new home for 17 year old Laurie (Lauren Coe) and her mum (Sadie Frost), who have moved there from Ireland. Making friends for the teenager is, inevitably, difficult so Laurie channels her energies into her passion for athletics. At the track she meets Pete (Cosmo Jarvis), a thirty plus decorator who is quickly fascinated by her. The two develop a friendship, unbeknown to her mother, but while it soon becomes apparent that the girl’s feelings towards him are becoming stronger, the reasons for his pursuit and clear affection for her are less clear.
His reasons are at the core of the story and we know from early on that we’ve a 50/50 chance of being right. There’s something undeniably creepy, if not sinister, about the way he stares through the fence at her and invites her into his car. Yet, when she gets hammered at a nightclub, he refuses to take advantage of her vulnerability and simply takes her home. By the time he tells her the truth, we’ve worked it out for ourselves but instead of making the film predictable, it adds to the tension as the subsequent fall-out threatens to damage everybody involved. And, long before he’s opened up to her, the red graffiti on the front of his flat shows their relationship, whatever its nature, is already the subject of gossip and deep disapproval.
Cosmo Jarvis confirms yet again what we’ve seen in recent years, that he’s one of the best of the younger crop of current British actors. He’s also carving out a distinctive niche for himself with portraits of inarticulate masculinity, disguising a depth of feeling under a brutish or irresponsible exterior. In this case, it’s the latter, although the pride he takes in his work in the home of an elderly couple speaks volumes for what’s going on beneath that hulking surface. There’s a real chemistry in his scenes with Lauren Coe, the latest in a line of talented young Irish actresses, who’s hiding just as much beneath her truculent exterior and finds facing the truth almost too much to bear.
Nocturnal isn’t always an easy watch, not because of its subject matter but its dour tone, reinforced by the gloomy palette and lighting. On the few occasions we’re given bright light and vibrant colours, they come almost as a shock and feel like they’re out of place in the depressing surroundings. But this isn’t a story devoid of hope. Stick with it until the very end and you’ll feel something closer to unexpected satisfaction.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Wildcard Distribution | 18 September 2020 | Dir. Nathalie Biancheri | Cosmo Jarvis, Lauren Coe, Sadie Frost, Laurie Kynaston.