Saturday 17 October 2020

ROSE: A LOVE STORY - London Film Festival 2020

Living a secluded life out in the woods with his wife Rose (Sophie Rundle), the isolated world Sam (writer Matt Stokoe) has created is put into jeopardy when his delivery of fuel fails to arrive on schedule. Forced to head into town to confront the people who've taken his money and not supplied the goods, the stability of their lives is tested and the reason for their seclusion may be revealed. Sam is prepared to protect Rose at all costs, but is he protecting her from the outside world, or is it the opposite?

A low budget British indie with no notable stars, I went into Rose: A Love Story pretty cold, knowing only that there was some festival buzz around it, and it's turned out to be one of my favourites of this year's LFF. A curious mix of survival horror and sweet romance, it's a film that keeps its mysteries close to its chest, laying down plenty of intriguing ideas, visual clues (leeches in masonry jars) and genre motifs in its first half, before the introduction of a new character upends Sam and Rose's world and we start to see the harsh reality behind their choice to shut themselves off from everyone else.

The opening scenes, where Sam goes to confront the young man who's stolen from him, ratchet up the tension that's already at a respectable height after the dark woodlands setting has been established. Dangerously low on fuel to power their generator, Rose, working away on her typewriter, is plunged into a darkness that she seems welcome in, her adverse reaction to the sight of a small cut already showing us signs that she's no normal shut-in. When Sam returns to their home in the woods he's clearly scared of what he might be facing, but with a lockable safe room within their house, he has planned for all eventualities to make sure Rose is protected. Well, almost all. The second half of the film switches the set-up drastically, as the quiet, unsteady balance of their marital bliss is upset by the arrival of Olive Grey's Amber, caught in one of Sam's rabbit traps and in urgent need of medical attention. Reluctantly allowed into the home by Sam, he must weigh up if helping Amber is worth the risk to Rose's safety.

Rose: A Love Story succeeds in establishing the convincing coupling of Sam and Rose, in no small part due to the natural chemistry between Stokoe and Rundle that comes from their real life relationship. Both on board as producers and with a script by Stokoe, this is clearly a passion project of theirs, brought to life brilliantly by first time feature director Jennifer Sheridan. Having mostly worked in short films and TV as an editor, director and writer, this is an impressively assured debut by Sheridan, presenting an ominous mood that suggests the horror genre may be something she should explore again in the future. Likewise Stokoe, who's crafted a gruff, brooding calling card for himself as a writer and actor that will certainly serve him well.

Making the most of of its remote, snowy surroundings (the snow apparently not by choice, but just the result of unexpected weather at the time of shooting), Rose: A Love Story taps into a feeling of isolation and fear of the outside world that feels all too relevant right now. And although the restricted focus of the film might leave some hoping for a grander finale than it's able to offer, there's plenty of simple, effective scares to enjoy in the preceding 90 minutes to make this a stand out offering for recent British horror filmmaking.



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