Directed by Jennifer Sheridan and written by Matt Stokoe, gripped by a violent, terrifying illness, Rose (Sophie Rundle) lives in seclusion with her husband (Stokoe), but the arrival of a stranger shatters the fragile refuge they have built. Also starring: Nathan McMullen, Olive Gray and Boadicea Ricketts. Rose is the first feature from Mini Productions and producers April Kelley and Sara Huxley.
You know there’s something dark and disturbing going on when you’ve got a couple living in a cabin in the woods, surrounded by traps, with no technology and one of them never goes outside but one of the brilliant things about this film is that while those elements may be familiar, it takes them all and presents them in its own unique way. Right from its very beginning with a close up shot of the extra locks on the door Jennifer Sheridan gives this film a deftly ominous air, her directorial style pumps this story full of thrill, dread and fear. The way that the camera moves is so gripping to watch, it creates this continuous threat and masterfully brings through sinister touches by having a brilliant balance of focusing on the details and considering the bigger picture. There’s almost a light, graceful touch to it in the way that the story’s dynamic changes the tone of film from moment to moment, moving from horror to drama to thriller and combinations of all three. It’s incredibly impressive how Sheridan adapts to each challenge while never affecting the film’s flawless, smooth progression. All of that sincere quality is then only made more impressive when you realise that this is her feature debut and she also co-edited the film.
Aside from the direction, there are two other elements that you’ll likely notice very quickly, firstly the cinematography (by Martyna Knitter) which does so well to make the most of the film’s picturesque setting. The way that Knitter captures the woods and the weather really hammers in that sense of isolation, as well as the possible threat of dangers lurking amongst the trees. The second thing is the score (by Cato Hoeben) and sound work, it rounds out the viewing experience to ingrain that sinister and menacing atmosphere. Everything works in unison to put you on the edge of your seat and ready yourself for the potentially unsettling story that is to come.
Horror is a genre that so well blends with others and this film takes full advantage of that, it’s incredibly clever in how it uses horror to emphasise its drama rather than drive it. The most surprising aspect of the film is how big of a heart it has at its centre, its real focus is Rose (Rundle) and Sam (Stokoe). The relationship that these actors create is sweet, loving and selfless, they have a wonderful chemistry and it adds a sincerely earnest quality to the film that’s quietly compelling. The writing is also paced extremely well, there’s never a dull moment and it consistently brings through those darker tones which keeps a great balance. The introduction of Amber (Gray) is handled particularly well, it utterly changes the dynamic that’s been built up until that point and forces all the characters to adapt which is riveting to watch.
One of the perfect things about casting Sophie Rundle in this role is the fact that she has such a gentle, kind presence which adds even more emphasis to this darkness that she’s fighting against. Her performance as Rose is charming and vulnerable yet strong which works so well alongside Stokoe’s very brash yet caring Sam, the two of them together immediately create this entrenched old married couple atmosphere, their bickering and disagreements are underlined by a deep, mutual understanding of one another. Olive Gray rounds out the key cast wonderfully, she creates Amber as headstrong and independent but you can still see how she craves a nurturing environment, the genuine curiosity that she brings adds a lot to the story. It may be a small cast but they all give performances that keep you glued to the screen, they’re relatable, sympathetic and intensely likable, they each have their own challenges and they all rise to the occasion.
Rose: A Love Story is clever, compassionate, patient, gripping and tense, it’s an intelligent blend of horror and drama, falling more on the latter in a surprisingly satisfying way. Sheridan’s direction is extremely impressive, especially for a first feature, it has such a perfect control over balancing the sinister and dark with the loving and sweet. At its heart, it’s a story about how far you will go for the ones you love, especially when your life together is under threat, its vampiric edge serves to intensify that story and give it a more unique, innovative style. Whatever you may be expecting of this film, it will tick those boxes and a lot more.