LFF 2020: Rose: A Love Story Review
Jennifer Sheridan’s chilly debut feature is an atmospheric horror thriller and perfect for the peculiar times we are currently living in. Rose: A Love Story is Sheridan and writer/star Matt Stokoe’s take on vampires and isolation and shows remarkable promise from all involved.
Rose (Sophie Rundle) and her husband Sam (Matt Stokoe) live a secluded, isolated life, deep in the woods somewhere in the UK. Rose never leaves their tiny, dark house while Sam collects petrol and grows food for them both. Behind closed doors, Sam allows leeches to feed on his leg to provide food for Rose. Not many details are revealed about Rose’s seemingly horrific condition, but the arrival of a young girl called Amber (Olive Gray), threatens to ruin everything Sam has worked so hard to build.
Despite the film being called Rose, this is mainly Sam’s story. Sheridan and Stokoe are much more interested in Sam’s point of view and at the arrival of Amber, it’s Sam’s delicate world which seems to start crumbling while Rose shows motherly feelings towards Amber. Sheridan makes a point of showing how carefully Sam has constructed their daily routines and life in order to protect Rose from the outside world, as well as pondering the ethical questions that around them.
Visually, and at times narratively, Rose seems to share a lot of DNA with Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night. Both find their protagonists isolating from a world they see as too dangerous and deal in extreme anguish and dread. Ultimately, Rose feels almost romantic. This is a relationship drama that uses the horror genre as a lens to examine its characters and their unique circumstances. With or without Rose’s condition, Rose and Sam still bicker, make dinner and have sex, just like any married couple. They also disagree and fight and it’s clear the life Sam is trying to keep up is about to come tumbling down. Stokoe’s script treats Rose’s condition almost like a long-term illness - she requires treatment and a strict routine, it seems incurable and Sam has trouble accepting it, going to lengths to pretend everything is fine while needing to lock Rose away when an animal kills a deer nearby.
Rose is, in fact, quite a tragic look at ultimate and extreme devotion. It’s unsettling when the horror elements are introduced to its narrative and the gorgeous visuals, captured perfectly by Martyna Knitter, support Stokoe’s script, but the film is at its best when examining Sam and Rose’s marriage. What kind of a man is Sam? So fiercely is he willing to protect his wife that he abandons Amber on the side of the road with a broken leg, just to avoid anyone finding out about their little house in the wilderness.
For hardcore horror fans, Rose might be too understated and tame, but it packs a mighty punch. Even when the film treads into almost absurd territory, Sheridan and her phenomenal cast manage to keep the focus on the more human elements of the story. It could have benefited from focussing more on Rose as well - currently she seems like a supporting character in a film that carries her name. Rundle does a wonderful job with the role, playing Rose as more human than a creature, but also embodying the horrific transformations with ease. She brings a real warmth to Rose, which carries a lot of meaning when trying to understand why Sam would go so far to protect her.
Rose is a great showcase for Sheridan’s potential and talent and the chemistry between Rundle and Stokoe is wonderful. This is ultimately a tragic look at a marriage and love, shot through the lens of a vampire tale. Perhaps a little short, Sheridan and Stokoe could have extended the narrative a little, and pushed a few boundaries to give us more context on how the couple ended up living so isolated in the woods, but this is a fascinating debut for Sheridan, who is a filmmaking talent to watch.
Rose: A Love Story plays at the London Film Festival.
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