Make Up – A Startling, Unnerving Debut

Ruth (Molly Windsor) has just been unceremoniously left by her parents on a static caravan site. She’s eighteen, and it’s the first summer that she’s been allowed to live with her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn) on the Cornish coast. Yet, like those caravans, Ruth is static. She’s blindly followed her boyfriend of three years to live by the sea, but she can’t even swim. Ruth teeters on the edge of adulthood. She’s a girl who bites her nails down to the quick, but she babies her boyfriend as she deep cleans their caravan.

Claire Oakley’s debut film is neither conventional nor trite. Days after moving in, Ruth examines a mirror to find a kiss stain embedded, and among her boyfriend’s clothes, she finds a red hair entwined like copper wire. All the evidence points to cheating, but Ruth becomes entranced by the image of the mysterious redhead. Soon, she becomes convinced that she sees this woman everywhere; from her head bobbing in the windows of the neighbouring caravan, to her crimson tipped talons curving around a wall. Ruth doesn’t tend to voice her insecurities, but Molly Windsor tells you everything you need to know through her eyes alone. She stares at her boyfriend; her eyes are full with her disappointment, her anger, her grief and her disbelief. She is most definitely an actress to watch.
The red-headed woman is something more than evidence of an affair. Ruth is bewitched by her. Does she want to be her, or does she want to sleep with her? Ruth starts to question her sexuality, and there’s a stark difference in her relationship with her boyfriend, and with Jade (Stefanie Martini), a co-worker at the caravan site. With Tom, there’s a juvenile playfulness, important conversations are left at the door, and they spend most of their time together having sex. But with Jade, Ruth drinks, laughs, chats and flirts with her in a way that beckons towards her adulthood. Claire Oakley’s writing subtly separates these two relationships and interrogates them, quietly pushing Ruth towards accepting herself.

It’s no surprise that Oakley was inspired by the work of Nicholas Roeg, especially by Don’t Look Now. Don’t Look Now is wickedly claustrophobic and dreamlike and here too, there’s an unnerving, overwhelming quality to the work. It’s a horror film set in realism – the fear of taking the plunge. Ruth sees figures that no-one can explain and scenery shifts with no explanation. Oakley cleverly lets these moments be and doesn’t attempt to create a logic for them. These little vignettes add a depth and a mystery while refracting the story allowing it to be read in endless different ways.

Oakley’s debut is bold and refreshing. She hasn’t made a film which fits neatly into preconceived boxes. While it explores queer relationships, growing-up, loneliness and isolation; Oakley is continuously innovating. Real-life becomes tense, and a caravan park in the off-season becomes horrific. Not only is she an impressive director to watch, but Make Up’s cast is also something to keep an eye on. Molly Windsor delivers such a remarkable, nuanced performance as Ruth you’re convinced she’ll astound you in her next performances.

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