Cast: Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe, Nathan McMullen. Director: Jennifer Sheridan.
The great thing about the horror genre is that there are ample ways in which to reinvent it. You can make it funny, or scary, or at times you can tell small scale simple stories which have emotions that belie the horror trappings.
Rose – A Love Story follows Sam, living in isolation in the forest with his wife Rose, who suffers from an unknown but serious illness. Their lives are fine, if simple, until a girl shows up in the woods injured and eager to leave.
Director Jennifer Sheridan has a fantastic sense of place; she very quickly shows the snowy forest as a place of natural beauty, with vast emptiness, but also a place of foreboding. It’s not a cosy little retreat, it’s a prison of sorts, meant to protect Rose from others, but also others from Rose.
Screenwriter and star Matt Stokoe is careful not to give too much away too soon, and to play his cards close to his chest; this is much more in the mould of a film like Dogtooth than anything vampiric. There’s less of Bram Stoker than there is of Mike Leigh. The subtitle ‘a love story’ is the key here.
While there is the sense that Rose is suffering from some form of supernatural affliction, the explanation or the effects are kept effectively low and allowed to simmer on the surface. What we know is that Sam is fearful of people finding them and has a deal with someone who allows them to get fuel.
The mood and tone of the film do well at setting up Sam and Rose as a couple; Rose writes and Sam loves to hear it, and they’re both devoted to each other, though the illness looms at all times. The recurring motif of leeches is a strong one, conveying the idea that illness leeches off a host; a powerful theme that also provides plenty of squirmy moments. When it’s between these – Stokoe and Sophie Rundle as Rose are a couple in real life with add to the emotional power of the film – the film works. Its horror trapping bely the true horror: that we can’t protect those we love from sickness.
With the introduction of Olive Gray as injured runaway Amber, things get a little murkier. There’s an feeling that the film felt the need to open up more so that the dialogue regarding the nature of Rose’s affliction could be talked about more. However, even though Gray is great in her role and offers a great counterpoint to the often serious Sam, there’s a feeling that just exploring the two-person dynamic would have been enough.
In the end, the film succumbs to its limitations in parts, and never fully embraces the horror of what it could be, but as a love story, it’s a wonderful addition to the Vampire canon.