Make Up, the debut feature from acclaimed short filmmaker Claire Oakley, screened at the London Film Festival last year. It’s a riveting and delightfully off-kilter project that walks the line between coming-of-age drama and psychological thriller. We follow teenager Ruth (Molly Windsor) as she travels to a seaside holiday park to stay with her boyfriend (Joseph Quinn) during the off season. However, when Ruth discovers evidence that he may be cheating on her, she becomes driven to find the identity of the mysterious girl, to the point of obsession.
With commendable performances from the bright cast of newcomers, Oakley takes great pleasure in guiding viewers through the odd world she’s created as events grow increasingly stranger. Unfortunately, though, the ending is unable to deliver on the expectations that have been built up throughout the enticing narrative. Although the finale isn’t necessarily bad (in fact, it’s effectively heartfelt for its own reasons), the tonal shift it takes during its revelation would have been better suited to a different genre entirely, where it wouldn’t have been so out of place. While the ending closes the film on a low note, it shouldn’t be enough to turn viewers away from this otherwise impressive outing from a unique new voice in cinema.
From the outset, Oakley paints the small Cornish resort as a place outside of reality where something feels off – a sensation amplified by Lisa Palfrey’s wicked performance as the oddball manager. The cold colour palette of the winter setting and interior halls mixed with warm reds further add to the film’s strange tone. In many ways, the setting could be best described as a blend of The Shining’s Overlook and Hot Fuzz’s Sandford, and it works.
Tangible chemistry between Windsor and Quinn is another huge strength here in drawing viewers into this world and, vitally, Ruth’s troubled headspace, which is explored through some genuinely spine-tingling imagery. Likewise, Stefanie Martini brings plenty of personality to her role; but the script (for spoiler reasons) doesn’t allow for her and Windsor to share enough time together for the reveal to work as intended.
A promising debut by Oakley, Make Up is an enjoyably fun and weird outing despite the ending not sticking as well as it should.
Make Up is released digitally on Curzon Home Cinema on 31st July 2020.
Watch the trailer for Make Up here: