Make Up

 

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Claire Oakley’s debut feature is a minimalist drama dripping with atmosphere but with a paucity of plot.   

 
Make Up

Shock windows: Molly Windsor

  

Atmosphere can only take a film so far. Opening with the roar of the elements set against a black screen, Claire Oakley’s feature debut immediately asserts its pedigree. A car’s headlights penetrate the darkness, and inside we see Ruth (Molly Windsor), chewing her fingernails, peering out at the shapes illuminated by her ride. She is shortly deposited at a holiday caravan site in Cornwall, where she hopes to be reunited with her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn). At this stage little is divulged, but one suspects that Ruth, 18 – but appearing much younger – is a runaway.

 

Before the nightmare begins, Claire Oakley provides us with a nightmarish setting. With its bungalows squatting on the landscape like toads on a rockery, the campsite offers a grim escape from the comforts of home. This being winter, the weather is inclement, with howling winds and fog-enshrouded dunes, while the abrasive sound of barking dogs, screaming children and the otherworldly cries of the night adding to the malaise. Cannily, Oakley deprives us of an establishing shot, so that, like Ruth, we feel uncertain of our bearings. And the director injects cutting shards of the disorientating onto her stage, with a spectral face peering out of a window, or an unchecked comment from a resident. The initial unease recalls the original Straw Dogs, also set in Cornwall, far from the tourist-friendly arcadia of Fisherman’s Friends. Who would want to live in such a hellhole, with its rubbish, bleak isolation and unbroken exposure to high winds and driving rain? There is a gaudy amusment arcade, but even there the electricity cuts out.

 

Oakley, who has elicited strong, natural performances from her actors, exhibits an immediate command of her material. But her material is thin. As Ruth, Molly Windsor strikes an imposing presence, her performance largely made up of reaction shots to undefined noises and imagined apparitions. At times, the film flirts with the supernatural and one wonders if Make Up is a ghost story, or maybe even a revenge thriller. Ruth has come a long way to be with Tom, but immediately suspects another woman in his life. There’s the imprint of a female kiss on his mirror and strands of long red hair in his wardrobe. But this is really a rites-of-passage drama just toying with other genres.

 

Truth be told, Make Up is a rather enthralling short film stretched to feature length. However, as a calling card for Oakley, it is full of good things, not least the excellent sound design of Ania Przygoda and the elegant editing of Sacha Szwarc. Nonetheless, a certain repetition and reliance of scenic squalor is not enough to keep us gripped. So, it’s up to the central turn from Ms Windsor and strong support from Stefanie Martini as a colourful camp employee and Lisa Palfrey as the site manager to provide the film with its interest.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stefanie Martini, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Elodie Wilton, Lisa Palfrey.

 

Dir Claire Oakley, Pro Emily Morgan, Screenplay Claire Oakley, Ph Nick Cooke, Pro Des Sophia Stocco, Ed Sacha Szwarc, Music Ben Salisbury, Costumes Holly Smart, Sound Ania Przygoda, Dialect coaches Tim Charrington and Steve Hall.

 

Quiddity Films-Artificial Eye.

85 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 31 July 2020. Cert. 15.