It’s always nice to see a horror film that relies less on pure gore and jump scares, and more on tone, atmosphere and suspense.
I think it took me longer to get into the genre, as the few horror films I saw when I was younger typically did rely on those aspects to give across their scares, and that never really did it for me. But as I’ve grown older and have seen a wider variety of scary films, I’ve built up more of an appreciation for what they can offer. Not just for inducing feelings of fear and anxiety, but for the complex ideas and relationships that the unique settings and plots of horror films can provide. I bring this up because Rose: A Love Story is a strong example of a horror story that has a lot of interesting content whilst still providing a genuinely tense atmosphere and a consistent worry of how things could go wrong.
Rose: A Love Story focuses on a married couple, the titular Rose (Sophie Rundle) and her husband Sam (Matt Stokoe, who also wrote the script). They live alone in the middle of the woods, hunt and grow their own food and have limited contact with the outside world. You might think that they’re just providing good examples of social distancing, but it soon becomes apparent that something more sinister is underfoot. Sam is continuously paranoid, laying traps and sticking to a rigid schedule, whilst Rose can’t go out during the day and consumes a strange bloody substance every night. Problems begin to arise in their marriage, however, due to the arrival of Amber (Olive Gray) who is injured by one of their traps and begins to ask pressing questions.
If that description makes the film sound overly plot heavy, then I haven’t truly done it justice. The focus of the film is the relationship between Sam and Rose, which has its complexity brought to life expertly by both Rundle and Stokoe (a real life couple acting together is bound to result in on-screen chemistry). Their dynamic is a captivating part of the film, as the supernatural horror elements take a back seat to their attempts to navigate the complicated nature of their feelings for each other. There’s not much we get to learn about them individually (especially in Rose’s case), but they still make for compelling leads in this suspenseful story, with credit due to the director Jennifer Sheridan. If you enjoyed Marriage Story, but thought it would have benefited from more blood drinking, this may very well be the film for you.
The horror elements themselves do take a back seat to the relationship, but there is some clear tension in the film. The scenes at night where Sam is actively worried are well shot and keep you intrigued, but the real nerve-wracking content is when Amber turns up. Gray provides a very different performance from the other two actors, and as soon as she turns up at the cabin, you just know that something is going to go down. The film is clever with this though, providing misdirection and teasing for the delivery of the finale so that you’re truly on the edge of your seat whilst watching. The film also makes interesting use of lighting, with a variety of natural light, intentional darkness and shadow, and even UV lights creating an uneasy tone for the majority of the scenes.
Rose: A Love Story is a chilling little pitch that manages to successfully explore the love it aims to tell us about, whilst providing a chilling atmosphere and tone. Strong performances are held together by a talented director, with enough balancing of tones to leave you unsure when the next shock will arrive, but certain that it’s just around the corner.
Words by Mischa Alexander
Other reviews from the London Film Festival can be found here.
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