Screen Daily review: London Film Festival
Updated: Jul 9
Make Up reviewed out of LFF
Dir/scr: Claire Oakley. UK. 2019. 86mins.
An off-season Cornish caravan park proves a suitable setting for writer-director Claire Oakley’s feature debut, a film centred around a teenager whose belief that her boyfriend is cheating on her leads to a surprising journey of self-awakening. Framing a coming-of-age narrative within the claustrophobic confines of its windswept coastal locale, and playing with both genre convention and audience expectation, Make Up is a visceral piece of regional filmmaking.
With its female-focused narrative, frank and sensitive depictions of sexuality, strong performances and vivid aesthetic, Make Up could find further festival interest after its premiere in London Film Festival’s Sutherland competition. With Curzon and BBC Films having jointly bought UK rights, the film could perform well domestically; particularly on streaming and broadcast platforms.
Working with cinematographer Nick Cooke, production designer Sophia Stocco, composer Ben Salisbury and sound designer Ania Pryzgoda, Oakley has crafted a story which packs an immersive sensory punch. While her screenplay is restrained, and her lead character verbally taciturn, Oakley daubs the screen with the very raw (and shifting) emotions that her protagonist is struggling to understand and contain.
That protagonist is 18-year-old Ruth - played with remarkable poise by Molly Windsor - who arrives in the dead of night to the Cornish caravan park in which her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn) works. She is initially thrilled to see him, but soon finds evidence that suggests he is being unfaithful and embarks on some amateur detective work. Her increasingly desperate sleuthing leads to Jade (Stefanie Martini), a beguiling park employee and, despite Ruth’s initial suspicions, the pair begin to build a close friendship.
As Ruth’s determination to get to the truth about Tom becomes an obsession, so the film — named for the make-up which Ruth initially rejects, believing it makes her look like an imposter, then slowly comes to embrace — quickly turns from standard teen drama to hypnotic psycho-thriller. Much like Tom Harper’s 2009 caravan-park set thriller A Scouting Book For Boys, the film embraces the visual starkness of its surroundings; churning winter waves, rows of silent caravans sealed up for fumigation, the neon cacophony of the deserted games arcade all emphasising Ruth’s outsider status.
Ruth is, as is quickly pointed out by Tom’s blunt-edged best friend Kai (Theo Barklem-Biggs), no better than a tourist; that she cannot understand the Cornish turns of phrases being used around her— lingo that Tom has picked up with ease — is just one of the ways in which she becomes isolated.
As Ruth retreats into herself, and succumbs to visions which may or may not be hallucinations, the film’s aural and colour palettes distort and sharpen with each new narrative twist.