Make Up is a realist British drama with an aberrant psychological edge. It brings to mind The War Zone with its isolation and atmosphere, but Clare Oakley’s debut is a more inward experience, placing us in the protagonist’s headspace to feel her suspicions and confused paranoia.
The premise is simple. Eighteen-year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor) moves down to Cornwall to live in an off-season caravan park with her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn), sharing various odd jobs. Within a day of her arrival, she finds traces of another woman – lipstick on a mirror, stray hairs on Tom’s clothing – that sends her into paranoia. This jealousy, however, morphs into something much deeper and sensual.
Ruth’s experience is more circumstance and environment than plot and dialogue. She’s young, unsure of herself and stuck in a bleak, windswept stretch of the Cornish coast, away from her parents for the first time in her life. She wanders from scene to scene, awkward and withdrawn despite the three years she’s been with her boyfriend. Ruth’s introversion requires a performer to act with their eyes and facial expressions, yet while Windsor is generally natural and authentic, she can also be overly blank.
Her counterpart is Jade (Stefanie Martini), a confident twenty-something who’s unconcerned about others’ perception of her. We see Ruth open up in Jade’s company, basking in the warm light of her bohemian living room. These moments best reveal Oakley’s tactile sensibilities, which are cinematically framed by Nick Cooke’s wide, arresting camerawork.
The psychodramatic trappings may misrepresent the film for some, because what Make Up amounts to is a quiet coming of age tale with a heart of social realism under all the menace and pathetic fallacy. It is a minor yet accomplished debut feature from Clare Oakley.
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