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Rose: A Love Story

Director – Jennifer Sheridan – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 86m

*****

A couple isolate themselves from the outside world by living off grid in the woods for reasons not immediately apparent – out in the UK on digital including Amazon Prime from Monday, April 5th

The LFF put this in their Cult strand and the label fitted perfectly. Impressionistic images show cutlery, cups, CDs hanging from trees. A man leaves a hunting cabin. A woman sleeps in a bed. An eye of a beast in close up. A rabbit. The woman wakes, startled by a man’s voice. She puts paper in a typewriter. The rabbit is killed in a trap.

“I’m trying to give the doctor a reason to be in Prague so Susie can meet him,” Rose (Sophie Rundle) tells Sam (Matt Stokoe, also the film’s screenwriter). She is writing a book and they are living in isolation in the woods. This seems to suit them although something odd is definitely going on. They have supplies of leeches in jars, and he sits reading of an evening after applying a few of these to the upper part of his legs. Then he mashes up the results into a red pulp which comprises her diet. His diet is completely separate and comparatively normal, with caught and cooked rabbits making up a large part of it.

They seem to go through a lot of the things most couples go though. She has a problem with her body image. He hates it that she wants to turn out the light when they’re in bed as he wants to see her. She wonders why he stays with her, but he has no plans to leave and they seem very much in love.

Then one day, Alan – who brings their regular supplies of petrol and other items along with any postal deliveries – doesn’t turn up. In his place is a man in a car (Nathan McMullen) who claims to be Alan’s nephew and that Alan can’t make it. When Sam expects to receive his goods then hand over the money, not the other way round, the transaction sours. Sam also learns that the alleged nephew hasn’t collected his post. Sam later goes into town to pick up supplies and post himself, finds the alleged nephew in a pub and beats him up outside.

Further disruption to their existence follows when runaway Amber (Olive Gray) breaks her leg in one of Sam’s snares. Sam brings her back to the cabin to set her leg and give her a chance to recover before sending her on her way. But there’s a worry that she might tell other people about them.

The film is basically a two-hander, a compelling study of a couple trying to stay together and look after one another even as they battle some deep-seated psychological issues. For about its final third, when Amber turns up, the dynamic changes to a three-hander with the couple trying to deal with the outsider and a possible threat to their survival.

It fits into any number of genres – among them drama, relationship study, mystery, suspense thriller and arguably horror – but it’s really its own film and not quite like anything else. The script never misses a trick, edge of the seat stuff right through to the very end, with even the final shots quickly delivering some unexpected but highly believable narrative developments. The painstaking build up to the devastating conclusion is both efficient and effective. The performances are intense.

Every moment, every shot here counts. There’s even a lovely little scene where Sam picks up a package from the post office and the counter girl (Boadicea Ricketts) makes small talk. “What’s inside”, she asks, “anything interesting?” “Leeches”, replies Sam, jokingly. Because we know he’s actually telling the truth, the moment is both funny and strangely unsettling. Every single scene in this film plays with your emotions in equally subtle ways. You might wonder why you’d want to see a film with such a seemingly bland title. When you’ve seen it, you’ll be really glad you did.

Moreover, because it’s about a couple living in isolation, the film carries (probably unintentional) extra relevance in our pandemic-smitten times. An extraordinary and essential, little British thriller whose towering achievement far belies its modest means. See it.

Rose: A Love Story is out in the UK on digital including Amazon Prime from Monday, April 5th.

Trailer:

Festivals:

2020

BFI London Film Festival 2020 (UK cinemas and BFI Player):

18.30 BST Tuesday, October 13th to 18.30 BST Saturday, October 17th.

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