Make Up

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Make Up
"Oakley doesn't oversell the unnerving elements, instead letting them unsettle us as they settle on Ruth."

Claire Oakley's assured debut is all about liminal spaces, both physical and mental, the places and feelings that hang eerily between the concrete and the comforting. Set on a Cornish static caravan site, perched on a clifftop, a scrap of land between civilisation and the sea, this isn't a place full of holidaymakers but a patch of life in transition, as the year slips slowly into winter and the campers slip away.

It's where Tom (Joseph Quinn) has worked the winters for years and where Ruth (Molly Windsor) has come to join him for the first time, finally considered old enough by her parents. She is also in a halfway place, still somewhere between childhood and adulthood, leaving one but perhaps not quite arrived at the other, dipping her toe in the waters with help from fellow, slightly older worker Jade (Stefanie Martini). She has all the assurance Ruth lacks, whether it's helping her to operate the washing machine or covering the teenager's bitten nail "stubs" with racy red acrylics, despite Ruth's protestations that she feels like a kid dressing up when she puts on make-up. This assertion cuts to the heart of the psychological element of the film - the sometimes frightening pathway to growing into yourself, whatever that brings with it.

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Empty campsites can be unwelcoming places, full of unfamiliar sounds - from shrieking foxes to creaky floors and the flapping of the plastic encasing many of the caravans as the fumigation chemicals take effect. Oakley doesn't oversell these unnerving elements, instead letting them unsettle us as they settle on Ruth. This is the horror of the imagined and the everyday, further cemented by naturalistic dialogue that allows Quinn and Windsor the freedom to capture the "night" and "day" intensity of young love - the energy with which emotions are experienced right to their limit, from joy to jealousy. Sexuality is a force of nature here, running wild and untempered, possibly dangerous. As Ruth's state of mind becomes more troubled, the film begins to hang more between the real and something else, not quite dreamy or nightmarish and all the more creepy because of that.

The jealousy springs from long hair that, like most of the psychologically treacherous elements here, glows red for danger. Ruth finds some on a piece of Tom's clothing and, soon after, starts glimpsing a redhead walking around the site. As friction begins to grow between Ruth and Tom, something else is brewing between her and Jade, something that, to Ruth, feels as dangerous as the undertow from the waves at the beach. Oakley keeps things taut as time seems to slip sideways for Ruth, things half remembered or imagined bright, like those nails, in her memory. There's nothing liminal about Oakley's talents, she has firmly arrived.

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2020
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A teenager finds herself increasingly troubled on an off-season trip to a caravan site.


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