Even the best marketing can only get you so far. Nina Forever, from the immensely talented Blaine Brothers, has a great trailer and a memorable tag line (‘a f**ked up fairytale’), but neither do justice to the brilliance of the Blaine’s debut feature. Both pitch the film as a snappy dark comedy with a horror twist, but what neither piece of promotional material achieves is a full demonstration of the film’s beautifully observed heart.
Rob’s long-term girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), has died in a tragic car accident. Aimless, and unable to come to terms with his loss, Rob (Cian Barry) sees little left worth living for and tries to top himself… unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Holly’s boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her, claiming she’s a bit boring. Enticed by Rob’s intensity, and desperate to prove that she’s more than a ‘vanilla’ lover, Holly (Abigail Hardingham) makes a move on him. It works. But, as they begin to get intimate, a bloodied Nina makes a surprise appearance, clawing her way up through the white bed sheets.
What follows is an intimate study into relationship ghosts and the deeply rooted memories of past lovers. Hardingham is perfect in the lead role and well deserving of her ‘Most Promising Newcomer’ award at the British Independent Film Awards. She avoids any stereotypes in her portrayal of Holly as a socially off-kilter emo kink, and instead establishes real truth with her shuffling, lusty performance.
Barry and O’Shaughnessy are also great and complete the excellent central trio. They are all gifted with some delightfully witty dialogue. O’Shaughnessy, in particular, is blessed with the Blaine’s wordsmithery and she matches up to that with a playful, lyrical performance.
In fact, the Blaine Brothers display their supreme cinematic abilities across the board. Their measured scenes display real confidence by refusing to shy away from extended beats of quiet. The actors, and the film as a whole, prosper from these moments of silence. In keeping with this rhythmic approach, they use editing to great effect (they’re editors by trade and cut the film themselves). On a number of occasions, two scenes will play out concurrently, with the first scene interspersed with snippets from the next (1a, 2a, 1b, 2b… etc.). It’s a simple technique, but it works a treat and, by always using it purposefully, it creates a really vibrant and expressive mode of delivery.
It’s also an eerily beautiful film with artful shots of British beaches played against the foggy greys of council estates and concrete playgrounds. These latter shots are reminiscent of Hoyte van Hoytema’s stunning work on Let the Right One In, and they do a great job of reflecting the miserable weather we’re often oppressed by in the UK. England has rarely looked so drab and so striking in the same film.
Nina Forever also shares Let the Right One In’s left-field tonal choices, and recreates some of that film’s powerful melancholy. The Blaine’s film is achingly mournful, at times, as these characters journey through their lives looking for some semblance of hope and happiness. Lingering shots of empty chairs at a dinner table sting with the pain of those now lost. The Blaine’s have a firm, and painfully well-observed, handle on human uncertainty, and it makes for a really disarming watch.
Hitchcockian shots of feet, the conspicuous lack of white wine to match the scarlet red and other visual details confirm the intricacy of their storytelling. Likewise, their command of symbolic imagery reaches its proudest pinnacle with their use of scars (both literal and tattooed) to reflect life’s burden and the often impossible task of trying to deny the past.
Nina Forever’s bombastic trailers will prepare you for a jokey romantic horror comedy romp, but they simply don’t do justice to the mighty power of this wonderful film.
Image and screener courtesy of Fetch Publicity.