- Emma Simmonds
- 27 July 2020
A holiday park off-season is the setting for the impressive debut of director Claire Oakley
Questioning your sexuality becomes a scary business in this eye-catching first feature from writer-director Claire Oakley. Mischievously resisting definition, it's a film that makes a lot from what initially seems like a little: a damp, wind-battered Cornwall out of tourist season, the underwhelming reunion between two teenage sweethearts. And yet it cultivates abundant tension and intrigue, marking Oakley out as a filmmaker of significant skill.
Make Up begins as insecure 18-year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor – a BAFTA winner for her work on TV's Three Girls) rocks up at the remote caravan park where her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn) has been working over summer. With the 'incomers' packing up, only the elderly regulars and workers remaining and the weather turning wild, the atmosphere is far from hospitable. If Ruth is creeped out from the off, her suspicion kicks up a gear when she finds suggestions that Tom may have been unfaithful: a lipstick print on his mirror, strands of long red hair embedded amongst his clothes. She turns her attention to his sexy and confident but firmly friendly co-worker Jade (Stefanie Martini, who played a young Jane Tennison in TV's Prime Suspect 1973), initially as a suspect, then with a different kind of fascination.
Oakley wraps her debut in sinister and askew stylings, employing subtlety at first, so that things only seem ever so slightly off before they turn more overtly frightening and grotesque. She delights in weird, kitsch details – a beaded curtain, a bunny rabbit lamp, Jade's collection of self-sewn wigs – but never takes it too far down that road, though Lisa Palfrey's Shirley is a treat as she presides over the operation like a Cornish Pat Butcher, offering questionable wisdom ('The sea is a great healer. After I learned to swim, I was no longer afraid of dogs,') and emitting a hair-raisingly hoarse laugh.
As Ruth nervously faces her own feelings, the film makes evocative, tumultuous use out of the stormy seaside environs to capture her inner battle, placing us right inside the mess of her head. Oakley's manipulation of horror tropes and the more gritty, grounded fundamentals merge interestingly, she has a knack for warping reality and is well-supported in her efforts by unshowily emotional performances, from Windsor and Martini in particular. It's a striking, haunting and imaginative look at getting to grips with who you really are.
Available to watch in selected Curzon cinemas and via Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 31 Jul.