Make Up ★★★½

A really intriguing and unusual debut feature from British director Claire Oakley that is a curious mix of genres—blending elements of horror, surreal mystery and psychosexual thriller into a story that is ultimately about one woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Set at a gloomy, off-season holiday park on the Cornish coast, the look and mood of the film is cold, stark and eerily quiet. The place is virtually deserted, occupied only by a small team of staff and a handful of patrons—an odd motley crew of disconcerting characters, all of whom sport dubious West Country accents and seem to spend half the time loitering idly or sticking their noses into other people’s business. The film’s protagonist, Ruth, wanders about the place rather aimlessly, looking for something to occupy her time as she waits for her boyfriend to finish each day’s work. She begins to see things she can’t explain, have wild nightmares, and hear strange noises in the night—the ear-splitting shrieks of foxes; scratching and rustling noises underneath her trailer; the unsettling sight of her elderly and mentally infirm neighbour staring at her blankly from her caravan window; and tantalising visions of a lady with red hair who always seems just beyond her reach. We’re never completely sure precisely how much of what Ruth sees and hears is real, a dream, or a figment of her imagination.

Oakley cleverly keeps us guessing as to what it all means for the film’s duration, leading the narrative down various paths before completely changing course. There’s just enough ambiguity to everything here to let the viewer form their own opinion about exactly what it all says about Ruth’s mental state and her own internal conflicts. It doesn’t completely round everything up in the most satisfying of ways, but it’s a film that leaves behind an indelible impression.

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