LFF 2020 Review: Rose: A Love Story
Woodland provides the cover for a loving but troubled relationship in Jennifer Sheridan’s promising debut
Written by Emma Simmonds
“Falling in love with someone is like being pinned down by some great big animal before you even know it’s following you,” Sam (Matt Stokoe) tells a bemused teen who has stumbled upon his fiercely guarded world. The character’s devotion to his wife, and the huge grief it causes him, goes some way to explaining the darkness of his analogy.
Sam and his mysterious missus are at the centre of this striking, sensitive and well-conceived, if not always satisfactorily explored, British chiller, from debut director Jennifer Sheridan (who has completed a number of shorts and was previously an editor working on TV comedy and light entertainment). Stokoe himself pens the screenplay, which thrills in turning our expectations of what to expect from a horror film upside down.
When we’re introduced to gruff outdoorsman Sam he seems like a wrong-un, with the pale-faced Rose (Sophie Rundle) his apparent captive. But their relationship is quickly revealed to be a loving, albeit fanatically protective one; their nit-picking and bickering tends toward the adorable, and their home – a cabin in the woods, though far from forbidding – may not benefit from the merest speck of sunlight, but it’s cosy and, almost implausibly, well decorated. The pair are hidden away for good reason – any more would be unfair to say.
There’s some notable quality in the execution. The film is stunningly shot by Martyna Knitter, who lends visual drama and a certain distinction. Honing in on a cocooned, ritual-heavy existence feels very hot right now, and it has a charming obsession with poring over the practical strategies with which the couple manage their rather extraordinary problem.
However, if Rose: A Love Story begins with great promise, structurally it doesn’t always make the most of the material. Events occur, or come to a head too late in the game to have enough impact, and the balance between humdrum domestic disputes and genre tropes and scares is too heavily weighted in the former’s favour. Although there are spooky or fleetingly frightening moments, there’s a general absence of tension and peril, something which would actually help you invest in the couple’s plight.
Still, the filmmakers add freshness to a sub-genre we’ve revisited many a time and Rundle brings the kind of exquisite earnestness that has made her such a favourite on TV, in shows such as Peaky Blinders, The Nest and Gentleman Jack. There’s plenty to recommend Rose to both romantics and horror fiends, so we’ll add Sheridan and Stokoe to our ones to watch.
Rose: A Love Story premiered at London Film Festival and is showing until 16th October.
Director: Jennifer Sheridan
Screenwriter: Matt Stokoe
Cast: Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe, Olive Gray
Running Time: 86min