Sophie Rundle and Matt Stokoe are wonderful in Jennifer Sheridan’s atmospheric feature debut Rose: A Love Story. Making Sheridan a filmmaker to watch out for in the future.
In the remote woodland outskirts of a quiet town, Rose (Sophie Rundle) and Sam (Matt Stokoe) live a back to basics existence. Sheltered away from the prying eyes of society they are truly alone. Although entirely devoted to each other. They have to contend every day with the mysterious illness that plagues Rose’s life. But when the couple is forced to take in an uninvited guest, their solitude is unexpectedly interrupted. Threatening to unleash the violent horror of Rose’s condition.
A horror with a good side-eye on a few other genres. Usually, this would spell disaster for a film, but thanks to Sheridan’s thoughtful and careful direction, we welcome this shift in tone. At times you would think this was just a psychological drama about a relationship strained due to seeming enforced solitude.
It takes a while for the horror elements to come to the fore and when they do, they work very well. This is really a story about a relationship under strain due to horrific circumstances. We learn little in the opening scenes about what is truly going on. Although any fan of cinema will be able to read the tell-tale signs of what is going on through without being told. It is still a wonderful viewing experience.
Comparisons will be made towards It Comes At Night for how little actually happens in the opening and how the family are isolating themselves. This is especially the case if you compare the trailers, which in this case hurts the film. If you can go into Rose: A Love Story without actually watching it, it gives too much away and in fact misdirects you on what you are expecting.
This is a quiet, thoughtful film that builds its tension wisely throughout. We know something is going to happen explosively once we meet our third companion Amber (Olive Gray). The previous time we spent with our couple means almost nothing as the temptation is now here. The shift in the tone of Rose: A Love Story is clear and evident. Sheridan amping up the tension with every scene, with it almost becoming unbearable to watch as our couple try to handle and adjust to Amber’s presence. It is wonderful all-around right up to the tragic finale.
As mentioned, as much as this picture is a horror, it is also a drama on how a partner will do anything for their beloved. We see Sam scrape by, to make sure Rose has everything that she needs in their little cabin. That although they are separated from the world, he has sacrificed everything to be with her, quite literally in this case. It is a tragic love story and you do begin to root for the duo as the film goes on. Yes, they argue and fight, but all couples do. Plus, Rose and Sam have a valid reason for such decisions, that it would only be natural that after a while the two would be at each other’s throats over petty things. I would assume a few couples who have been lockdown with their significant other could attest to this.
Rundle is so understatedly brilliant here that there is a big hope that she ventures more into feature work as her career goes on. She has accepted what her ailment is and is trying to get along the best she can. It is a stand-up and takes notice type of performance. Equally, writer and co-star Stokoe is phenomenal here. He is truly devoted to his wife and is still trying to figure out how to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible for them both. But it is a grind and you can tell by Stokoe’s demeanour as the film goes on how much of a toll it is taking on Sam. This is just as much Sams story as it is Roses. It is a brilliant turn and with such a strong connection between the two. You feel their performances and relationship a lot easier than others.
Sheridan’s visuals are at times breathtaking. Taking full advantage of their wooded surroundings to find gorgeous shots. W become fully immersed in the life of Sam and Rose. The smart use of lighting and angles to create that almost otherworldly feel throughout. Cinematographer Martyna Knitter has been given perfectly snowy surroundings to utilise her camera and in truth, I am not sure how much the film would have worked in a non-snowy environment. The ice and snow bring a chill to you as an audience, you want to wrap up and protect yourself as you watch these two people struggle through their new life.
Stokoe’s script is so tight that it verges on faultless, the pacing is on point and while as said earlier it doesn’t hit you over the head with what it is about, and the signs are there to see. It is smart writing and couple that with a smart director and performances, you are onto a sure-fire winner of a film.
A short couple of words have to go to the design team here as well. Jessica Barrell (Production Design), Olivia Young (Art Direction) and Sophie Munro-Pruett (Costume Design) have also done some outstanding work, with the claustrophobic, yet lived in house and design choices. It really makes the film stand apart from similar contemporaries considering the budget, marvelous work.
Rose: A Love Story isn’t here to pack a standard horror punch, it has its moments of course. What it lacks in big horror moments it makes up for in emotional punches. Oh boy does this film have a few tucked to the side ready to hit you at a moment’s notice. This is a close to perfect slow burner of a film. Which is so effective in its story that the ending will knock you down, hard.
With two relatable and considerate leads, this is as close to knocking it out of the park for a low budget film as you could get from Sheridan. A superb debut and one that should be spoken about with as much praise as possible.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!