A feature debut built around a powerhouse central performance by Molly Windsor, Make Up is a dreamy, unsettling and captivating film that marks Claire Oakley as a director to watch.
Synopsis: On a remote holiday park in Cornwall, a young woman is drawn into a mysterious obsession when she suspects her boyfriend has cheated on her.
Ruth (Molly Windsor) travels to spend the winter off-season at a Cornish caravan park with her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn). Though perhaps relatively uninspiring, he doesn’t seem to be a terrible boyfriend, until Ruth discovers red hairs and lipstick smudges on a window that indicate a possible affair. Ruth’s preoccupation with the mystery woman leads her on an increasingly surreal journey, furthered by her new connection with Jade (Stefanie Martini).
Make Up has an incredible texture of sound and visual images. Early scenes in the caravan utilise close-ups of mundane objects, that in their isolation become odd and oppressive. The slight movement of a beaded curtain becomes pronounced and brings an uncomfortable scratching sound. One of Ruth and Tom’s sex scenes feature a plate of half-eaten toast in the foreground, less a sign that theirs is a passion that cannot wait and more of a symbol of how unimportant the encounter is that normal service will resume immediately after.
In contrast to the beige scenery of the caravan, Jade (Stefanie Martini) is coded in red, always wearing some item of clothing and even the dull lighting draws attention to her red hair. A scene of Jade doing Ruth’s nails is notable for its warmth and hints of intimacy. That those nails provide one of the film’s most evocatively ‘horror’ moments also feels notable for Ruth’s internal conflict. Before her nails are manicured, Ruth picks at them in anxiety and uncertainty so for them to be where Jade focuses her care is emotive. The colour red and red nails contribute to Ruth’s preoccupation with finding who may have been in her boyfriend’s bed. They become a symbol of power, self-discovery and freedom, but in moments where the film aims to unsettle, become almost talon-like and dangerous. The setting of a caravan park in the off-season lends the film a sense of discomfort in the use of almost-abandoned amusement equipment and other empty spaces that should feel warmer. Draped plastic on caravans being fumigated again lends the film a cold and unnatural feel, as well as adding to the exaggeration of everyday sounds.
While being mostly horror ‘with a small h’, it employs numerous uncomfortable moments that blur the line between fantasy and reality. The techniques used allow the mystery to unfold with darker imagery building a sense of obsession through layered images and ultra-quick, disorienting cuts. Horror often deals with protagonists who are undergoing a period of self-discovery and this way, Make Up more than fits the bill where the monstrous is what is unknown. The film perfectly articulates the experience of being a woman, watching another woman and being caught in a space somewhere between the desire to emulate her and more straightforward desire for her. On a personal level, I’ve never seen a film so perfectly capture my own gaze I first discovered at about 13 and though Ruth is 18 in the film, there’s a sense that she is younger than her years and still putting together her view of the world. A lingering shot of women in bikinis all with the heads removed or covered on the wall of a staff room, acts almost as a ransom note of expectations for women, desirable bodies and passive behaviour, layering the negotiations involved in being a young woman and trying to find yourself.
Taking on directing and writing duties Claire Oakley has crafted an oft-passionate, visually impactful and sometimes unnerving story of self-discovery that deserves to find an appreciative audience. As a debut feature it hints at a very bright future to come.
Rating : 5 out of 5 stars
Make Up is released exclusively in Curzon cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on July 31st. Please visit the Curzon website for more information on their re-opening strategy – https://www.curzoncinemas.com/company-statement