Make Up – London Film Festival 2019 – Film Review

The premise of Make Up sounded intriguing with a coastal setting which immediately evoked comparisons to the compelling film Beast, starring Jessie Buckley, to me. Make Up features within the First Feature competition of the 2019 London Film Festival and is by the acclaimed short film director, Claire Oakley. The film has now been picked up by Curzon as distributors which is testament to the high standard of the storytelling and direction found in Make Up.

Molly Windsor plays Ruth in Make Up
Molly Windsor plays Ruth in Make Up

It would be simple to describe Make Up as a coming of age tale in a remote Cornish setting. However, the dramatic naturalistic sounds of the crashing waves, jump scares and the wind howling within the caravan park with doors flinging open voluntarily create such suspense and tension from the outset to dispel that notion. This is the location in which Ruth and Tom are spending an idyllic period as they stay together, which is hardly a romantic location during its off season and so it is remote, virtually isolated and therefore provides the perfect ingredients for a thriller.

Indeed, Oakley does succeed in this mission by ratcheting up the suspense with eerie, shadowy figures seen in the distance, screams heard from adjacent caravans, close ups whilst Ruth walks in the dark in the park with debris swaying wildly around her and the random signs of life from the few inhabitants present in the caravan park at such time. As the audience, we are embedded within the development of the intrigue as Ruth turns detective and starts an investigation after discovering clues suggesting that Tom may be having a liaison with someone else.

The weather becomes a focus too as it also fuels the suspense felt. Plus, there are a lot of shots showing partial views with perspectives through partially opened doors, mirrors and curved windows to create that sense of inner reflection as well as empathy with the protagonist. The film’s silence and even a mirror swaying from side to side unassisted unveil the excellent direction employed by Oakley.

We witness the domesticity of life between Ruth and Tom, which is perhaps contrary to Ruth’s initial impressions for a holiday period, where they are eating ‘spaghetti sandwiches’, is that now a thing? Aside from knowing Tom, Ruth is very much an outsider and wanders around the vicinity of the caravan park when she is not making up the beds or cooking dinner. Her fastidiousness with the constant cleaning in the caravan may be perceived as an outlet for stress or upset which many women can probably relate to. There are also some humorous scenes to be seen within her dialogues with one of the local Cornish women that Ruth encounters on occasion.

Ruth and Tom eating dinner in the caravan in Make Up
Ruth and Tom eating dinner in the caravan in Make Up

Ruth’s investigation of Tom creates some aesthetically pleasing shots, with red light bathing the exterior and some impenetrable smoky conditions, some of which may or may not be hallucinatory. But, this is very much Ruth’s story and so the investigations also produce an aspect of self-discovery, such that the thriller tropes within the film come to the fore.

Oakley’s direction is extremely visceral and emotive thereby leading the audience to empathise with Ruth’s anxiety at being alone. Such role is sensitively portrayed by Molly Windsor and so we may therefore resonate with her. However, as Ruth’s curiosity and sense of exploration grow, a friendship develops with Jade who introduces Ruth to wearing bright, red nail varnish and experimenting with make up. Jade entices Ruth to indulge in such experimentation with nail varnish telling her that ‘it’s not about what it looks like but how it makes her feel’. The setting with Ruth at the make up table in Jade’s apartment during such process has very sensual hues. There is subsequently an excruciating scene involving nails as Ruth struggles to find her identity whilst undertaking such experimentation.

The film explores the inner angst that a woman may feel when sensing that their partner may have been unfaithful. Make Up does avoid that woman spurned trope however with an unexpected twist which may or may not feel justified. The pacing of the film is slow but provides ample time to appreciate the wildness of the Cornish coastline and the atmospheric wide angle shots with stunning cinematography.

Make Up remains a tense film throughout its duration and the natural use of colour through the glow from the fireworks display within its final scenes signals that sense of liberation for its protagonist. Smouldering and sensual compared to the initial awkwardness of the earlier scenes, it truly feels as though the protagonist has encountered a seismic change in her life. It is a twist that I did not necessarily anticipate given the level of suspense developed in the first half of the film. Such change as the film’s denouement is celebrated and triumphant and connected to a greater self-awareness and passion evoked in Ruth.

Oakley hinted within the question and answer session that elements of the film may be reflective of her own journey, illustrating that ‘write about what you know’ angle. It is refreshing to see a unique viewpoint within the thriller genre.

Overall, it is very encouraging to see such innovative, alluring filmmaking in the British industry by female filmmakers within the genre.

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