It’s as rare as rocking horse excrement for horror movies to exhibit emotional depths not related to the visceral thrills of the jump scare and the insidious, bone- chilling fright. So invested in the art of the slay and sending the audience into paroxysms of fear, the genre and its practitioners have either forgotten or disregarded the idea that it’s capable of doing other stuff. Like making the audience have a good cry. The aim of Nina Forever (2015), by débutantes Ben and Chris Blaine, is not to get the heart pumping and nerves going with ghost train jolts, but to pull at the heart strings and demonstrate that films of this nature are entirely capable of provoking our tear ducts to do impersonations of Niagara Falls.
A film of rare import and vision, Nina Forever is a suburban gothic tale anchored within the living dead girl/corpse bride sub-genre. The blend of fantasy horror and character-based comedic beats recalls John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981) or even Innocent Blood (1992). There is a deadpan humour in the performances and dialogue, but it’s also restrained and never opts for the throwaway gag or descends into outright silliness. The characters involved in what is a necro-romantic ménage à trois are drawn into strange events and accept them on their own terms. As a story firmly within the living dead girl/corpse bride format, erotic frissons play beautifully off the melancholy.
Fiona O’Shaughnessy is superb as the girl from beyond the grave. As a phantom manifestation of Rob’s deep-seated grief, Nina turns up every time her ex, Rob (Cian Barry), who has moved on and found a new girlfriend, Holly (Abigail Hardingham), have sex. Nina appears from within the bed almost like a creature from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (another suburban gothic fantasia that feels like a key influence) to interrupt the pair. She proceeds to chide, harass and taunt her rival. So, how do you they solve a problem like Nina? That would be telling. How the story unfolds and develops is refreshing and sidesteps all the usual pitfalls and clichés that come with the romantic love triangle. For instance, Rob is never really the focal point of the drama. Nina and Holly’s relationship is the crux of the narrative and the catalyst for the subtext and themes. Rob’s tattoo, which reads ‘Nina forever x’ is as much a magical incantation as it is a perhaps foolish declaration of undying love. But the truth is love dies, as all other things die, and cherished memories must be laid to rest, too. Nina Forever is a brilliant, intelligent and emotionally rewarding debut feature.
Film4 FrightFest 2015 runs from 27-31 August. Programming, ticket details and all information can be found at www.frightfest.co.uk. You can keep up with our coverage here.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn