BFI London film Festival 2020 – Film Review – Rose: A Love Story (2020)

True love is not always enough to conquer all in Jennifer Sheridan’s intelligent and affecting horror film.

Rose and Sam are living off-grid in the Welsh woodlands. Rose fills her days writing a romantic novel while Sam tends his scrubby vegetable patch and traps rabbits. The pair are clearly devoted to each other, however, there is a tangible tension surrounding health issues affecting Rose.

Why does sunlight never permeate their abode? Why does Rose wear a scent laced facemask to prepare food? And why, exactly, do they receive a regular shipment of leeches?

Sheridan’s debut feature is an extraordinary exercise in expositional minimalism and narrative self-sufficiency. We are thrown into our protagonist’s routines and rituals with the barest of backstories, arriving as voyeurs but leaving as emotionally invested participants.

Shot in just 15 days Rose: A Love Story may well retread well-worn horror trope on the surface, but its real agenda is one of dense thematic repurposing. How many ethical boundaries are we willing to cross to protect our little corner of the world? Who or what is expendable in the fight for secluded anonymity?

On a deeper level, the film could also be taken as an extended analogy for the lonely sacrifices of midlife caregiving. How lives can be put on hold for the sake of loved ones and the stoic martyrdom that often damages the carer as much as the sufferer.

Deeper still, it represents a stark warning of the collateral damage of addiction and a candid chug from the poisoned chalice of enablement.

The relationship under the microscope is smartly written and beautifully acted. The truisms of an unbalanced partnership dependant on contingency plans and compulsive cravings are dispensed with uncomfortable realism and heartbreaking sincerity. Rose is cripplingly disgusted with herself and Sam stands teetering on the brink of a white knight saviour complex. 

Stuck in a pressure cooker atmosphere of bizarre coping mechanisms the couple resort to imaginary date nights in a desperate attempt to grasp at the spindly straws of normality. Just as Rose and Sam appear to have made definingly unselfish decisions, matters snowball out of control towards the predestined conclusion they have been masking through their mutual denial.

The budgetary issues are kept at bay through clever cinematography and hermetic sound design. Intermittently expansive landscape shots that blow the cobwebs from the claustrophobic monotony of the couple’s cabin are reminiscent of Lars von Trier title cards. The effects work is practical and convincing, achieving visceral resonance through a wisely less is more approach.

Sheridan utilises her cutting skills honed as a television editor for ‘The League of Gentlemen’, ‘Crackanory’ and ‘Cuckoo’ with aplomb and knows the difference between atmospheric slow burn and narrative stalemate. She has no qualms in letting her story breathe without the artificial ventilation of shock tactics or unsavoury sensationalism.

Rose: A Love Story is yet another movie shot pre-COVID that gains fresh pertinence through its refractive lens. With its sparse cast and limited locations, it could almost have been produced during lockdown restrictions. Its framework of emotional breakdown under isolation borders on the prophetic and its use of face-coverings downright uncanny.

A confident and melancholic meditation on obsessional love and forced guardianship this assured debut is well worth seeking out for those who like their horrors to be grounded and cerebral.

★★★★

WORLD PREMIERE

Relationship Drama, Horror Thriller | UK | Cert: TBC | 1h 26min | BFI London Film Festival | 13th Oct. 2020 | Dir. Jennifer Sheridan | Cast. Sophie Rundle, Nathan McMullen, Matt Stokoe 

 

From 7 to 18 October 2020, the BFI London Film Festival will be the first ever edition to be widely accessible wherever you are in the UK, with over 50 virtual premieres, free online events and cinema screenings across the land. Find out more HERE.