Director: Claire Oakley Starring: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stefanie Martini Running Time: 86 minutes
If one where to have a season of revelations of romance and identity in a tourist spot, they might prefer a glamorously lazy summer by the Italian riviera to say, the gloomy caravan’s of off-peak Cornwall. Yet that is where young Ruth, small and uncertain, finds herself in Make Up, the debut feature of English director Claire Oakley. Expanded from a concept for a looser, more abstract short, this seaside story appears elusive at first, Ruth wandering seemingly aimlessly around a holiday park in the dead of winter, but Make Up snaps into focus the clearer its aims become, and its setting and filming all feed into that feeling. We’re always lost until we know exactly where we are.
Arriving at the holiday park in the dead of the night in the middle of winter, there’s an immediately otherworldy sense at play for both Ruth and the viewer. The teen has arrived from Derby to be with her boyfriend of three years Tom, and at first his drab self is the only point of contact she has for miles around, except for the eccentric older woman in charge. It’s an empty, enclosing space; Tom and Ruth’s makeshift home is tiny, and the nearby ocean doesn’t offer much respite. Ruth can’t swim, her fear of the water an indicator of deeper, universal fears of uncertainty for a girl entering the adult world.
In this strange place Ruth has found herself in, for Tom’s benefit if not her own, sex, of the hetero variety specifically, looms over everything. Vixen foxes in heat shriek all evening, Ruth is told that the couple who occupied the caravan before her and Tom had a baby together, and in the absence of anything else to do and free from parental supervision, Ruth and her fella have plenty of it themselves. But when he’s working, she discovers some stray red hairs on their bed, and becomes fixated on the idea that he’s having an affair, conjuring images of an alluring woman everywhere; sensual, aspirational, and just out of her reach. Pairing this search with the tense, dark framing of the park and the humdrum day-to-day with the boyfriend, Oakley does a good job of creating a sense of mystery, projected from Ruth outwards, ensuring that some audience members might not see where this is going until the girl herself starts to figure it out.
Playing as Ruth, Molly Windsor conveys the film’s sense of longing, her withdrawn body language and low tone showing the lack of confidence that comes from a lack of certainty. She’s a self-conscious kid and acts like it, telling the new friend she makes at the park – the older, wiser, made-up gal Jade (Stefanie Martini) that she feels she’s playing dress up when she puts makeup on. She opens up, very gradually, in the presence of a more assured young woman, Martini giving the possibly over-serious film a welcome “sure-fuck-it” sense of joy that you can easily understand Ruth being drawn in by.
By the closing moments, the enticing but sometimes overbearing elements of the supernatural in Make Up hit their mark: signs of body horror and ghosts taking a clear meaning, and then clearing for a pleasant and uplifting conclusion. The camera crafts a nightmare for Ruth; a stifling, sweaty time with a drab boyfriend, engulfed in darkness and drenched in rain, that gives way to brighter days on the beach with sunny, colourful, alluring Jade. This combination of light psychological thriller and personal coming-of-age story makes for a unique mix, all endearing signs of promise for the director and the young cast.(3.5 / 5)