Rose: A Love Story, 2020.
Directed by Jennifer Sheridan.
Starring Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe, Olive Gray and Nathan McMullen.
A couple living in an isolated woodland cottage, away from the rest of humanity, for unique reasons must reckon with the risk that their secret home may be discovered.
Vampirism has been around on the big screen since the very first days of celluloid. Silent era classic Nosferatu is still considered to be one of the finest displays of cinematic blood-sucking ever and then there’s the more recent likes of Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos and, of course, Twilight. Just as it seems that every possible spin on the sub-genre seems to have been done, along comes seasoned TV editor turned director Jennifer Sheridan with her icy, compelling debut feature Rose: A Love Story.
The title character (Sophie Rundle) is a novelist living in a secluded forest cabin – which she never leaves – with her husband Sam (Matt Stokoe), who lays traps for rabbit and deals with the day-to-day running of their home. In order to keep their location secret from the outside world, Sam walks to the nearest road in order to receive a regular delivery of fuel from a resident of a village in the vicinity. He also goes through a daily ritual of allowing leeches to feast on his legs, then serving them up to Rose. It’s clear she’s a vampire, even by the time Sheridan goes to great lengths to show that she does indeed have a reflection.
For much of the 80 or so minutes of Rose: A Love Story, Sheridan focuses on the fragile minutiae of this couple’s existence. There’s a mundanity to their way of life, even though they’ve constructed a contained ecosystem of taped-over windows, UV lights and in which Rose wears a surgical mask over her face whenever she’s exposed to anything from outside – a sight that feels strangely familiar in our current pandemic-ridden world. It’s a prime example of that most tried-and-tested of genre movie formulae – almost real life, but slightly, chillingly askew.
The dynamic between these two characters is teased out beautifully by the two performances, with Stokoe and Rundle immediately believable. These people are in the strangest of circumstances, but live like any other couple, bickering about the multiple layers Rose reads into a perfectly normal compliment from her husband and having sex in the dark because she’s worried about how her body looks. Sheridan never over-eggs the supernatural elements of her story, finding the humanity in her protagonists. Rundle, especially, imbues Rose with real complexity, concealing darkness and turmoil behind her sweet, chirpy exterior.
Rose serves often as an intriguing musing on long-term illness, and the ways in which those living with those illnesses can often feel like they’re a burden to their loved ones. “This poison, it’s inside of me, not you,” Rose tells Sam. Stokoe sells the devotion of a husband totally committed to his wife, though Sheridan smartly teases out the idea that this is a man “trying to be fucking Rambo” in carving out a survivalist existence with a woman who relies upon him for everything. There’s more than a hint of a suggestion that Sam loves being a hero just as much as he loves Rose.
This is a slow-burn of a story, which is short on overtly scary sequences, but makes up for that with its consistently eerie and compelling atmosphere. By the time the movie inevitably has to introduce another character to shed some light on the mystery, you’d be forgiven for expecting the storytelling to accelerate – but it doesn’t. Sheridan holds and holds, ramping up the tension right up until the last five minutes. This is an occasion in which the destination and journey are equally enjoyable – a British chiller that packs a really satisfying punch, as long as you’re willing to wait for it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.