Tuesday 13 October 2020

Rose: A Love Story (Jennifer Sheridan, 2020)

This terrific debut feature from director Jennifer Sheridan is one of just three films in the Cult strand at this year's London Film Festival.  The Cult section of the LFF brochure is typically where I start when I'm circling what to watch at the festival, and although I would have liked to have seen a few more titles in there this year, this paring down is in line with the festival having been streamlined in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On the upside, it means I should manage to see everything Cult has to offer this year, as scheduling conflicts almost always get in the way of me completing a full set when it comes to catching up with everything in this particular strand.  With only a few slots to play with, the LFF programmers had to get it exactly right this year, and Rose: A Love Story, which had its world premiere this evening, is an excellent choice to fly the flag for the Cult strand in these troubled times.  The film screens at the festival from today until Friday.

Rose, which features facemasks, surgical gloves, and a couple spending most of their time indoors, feels very appropriate for the world we're currently living in.  Rose (Sophie Rundle) and Sam (Matt Stokoe, also the film's writer) live in an isolated house in the woods, where they have minimal contact with the outside world.  Their home has no electricity, but is powered by a petrol generator; Sam has an agreement that enables fuel to be delivered to him, but a rupture in this supply forces him to venture further afield in order to keep the generator topped up.  Sam's trip to the filling station has a definite air of risk to it, much like the feelings many of us had (and may still have) when venturing out for supplies during lockdown.  While Sam succeeds in getting the fuel, there's an altercation connected to the original non-delivery of the petrol, one that seriously spooks Rose when she learns of the incident and its potential to threaten her and Sam's off-the-grid existence.

While Sam is at the garage, he collects a parcel containing leeches he has ordered, and we witness him, more than once, administering the bloodsucking creatures to his own body.  After a while a picture emerges: Rose has a taste for blood, and therefore must be kept away from it at all costs, and the jars of well-fed leeches act as a source of sustenance, should the urges become too strong; this vampiric tendency also explains why Rose doesn't really venture outside of the poorly-lit house.  While the petrol station episode is yet to have repercussions, Sam and Rose's idyll is nevertheless shattered when young runaway Amber (Olive Gray) gets caught in one of the many gin traps surrounding the well-guarded property.  Amber's leg is broken by the trap, and Sam helps her but is naturally at great pains to stop the blood making too much of a mess.  With Rose banished upstairs, Sam cauterises the wound and resets the leg, then reluctantly agrees to let the injured girl stay the night.

While vampire tales are certainly nothing new, Rose manages to come up with an interesting take on the genre in that it is, above all else, a human story, one in which Sam and Rose's relationship is most definitely at the forefront, with the horror elements used both sparingly and effectively.  At times ,the film put me in mind of Leave No Trace and Let the Right One In (and its remake Let Me In), but somehow the film never once feels derivative.  The nicely-photographed wintry locale really adds to the sense of isolation, and, as is typical for films in which characters are doing their best to stay unnoticed, we take in the sight of the protagonists going about their strict daily routine, all the while acutely aware that their peace simply can't last—which provokes mixed feelings: we're rooting for Rose and Sam, but also wish for an agent of change to come along and shake things up.  As its subtitle informs us, Rose is very much a love story, one that proves both fresh and appealing, and it is a far cry from the tired, formulaic horror that typically rears its head at this time of year.

Darren Arnold

Images: Strike Media