A new couple gets a bloody unwelcome guest in the enjoyable horror dramedy Nina Forever
Nina Forever Epic Pictures Releasing
Director: Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine
Screenplay: Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine
Starring: Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Elizabeth Elvin and David Troughton
Rated R / 1 hour, 39 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
We tell ourselves it's going to last forever, and then it doesn't.
Or: We tell ourselves that nothing lasts forever ... but then, maybe it kinda does.
That basically describes the dilemma(s) in which Rob (Cian Barry), the love interest of Nina Forever, finds himself as he recovers from one relationship and moves on to another. The way he felt about his previous relationship was so unambiguous that he etched it permanently into his skin: "Nina Forever," inked in intimate handwritten style, like the closing line of a love note passed in secret.
And then she died. Car accident. Forever wasn't quite as enduring as he assumed. But nor, as it turned out, was her absence. Because whenever he finds himself in bed with another woman, Nina herself (Fiona O'Shaughnessy), returns from the dead. Not for good - no, she just pops in for a little while and disappears when the bedroom proceedings have more or less ended.
But the film is not about Rob's own quandary, but how it affects our protagonist, Holly (Abigail Hardingham, excellent), who falls for Rob, only for the consummation of their budding relationship to be greeted by Nina's twisted, reanimated corpse, which emerges - naked and covered in blood - from the bed itself, her body tearing through the sheets like a baby chick hatching from its shell. "Not again," says Rob, and Nina echoes the sentiment.
What to do, what to do.
The whole film cleverly tangles itself in this notion of permanence, and that's a testament to specific choices made by filmmakers Ben and Chris Blaine, who explore the idea in ways that complicate their story and the lives of their characters rather than simplify it all. What I like most - and one of the things that distinguishes Nina Forever from the way most other movies likely would have handled it - is the way the supernatural actually invades the characters' physical space in a permanent way. The Blaines could have easily gotten away with an easier approach to the premise - Nina makes her appearances and then disappears without any physical trace. But no. This Nina leaves more than just a trace. When she disappears from sight, she's left blood all over everything she's touched. The sheets are torn, the mattress stained, the walls smeared.
The initial encounter is, to put it mildly, alarming. Hardingham - an impressive newcomer who looks like she could play Ruth Wilson's younger sister - plays Holly with a sense of youthful curiosity and reticence, driven by a yearning for Rob (and, at least initially, drawn to the romantic allure of his rumored suicidal passion in the wake of his ex-girlfriend's death), perpetually uncertain about what she's doing, resolute in her conviction to prove wrong everyone who thinks she's too nice, too careful, too delicate. That youthfulness is intensified in the way the Blaines shoot the initial sex scene between Holly and Rob - which doubles as Nina's big (and unexpected) entrance. It starts with blatant deflowering imagery - a small red dot of blood on a white sheet that slowly spiders out - before we realize it's not just blood seeping through the sheets but an emerging physical form. And then finally, to everyone's chagrin, there she is, full-bodied (well, she's missing half a leg, but the rest of her is there), sharing a bed with Holly and Rob.
And yet, despite all that, Holly comes back. And despite the fact that Nina appears every time she and Rob have sex, Holly keeps coming back again. Every time, they just change the sheets afterward. Toss them in the wash, or throw them out altogether and buy new ones. Flip the mattress, wipe down the walls, change clothes. The fact that they cheerfully turn this into an accepted part of their routine speaks to the power of their burgeoning relationship - or perhaps to their mutual loneliness. Or both.
Movies are so good at hiding things and making their own rules that they can always avoid certain consequences if they really want to. But Nina Forever embraces the physical complication it gives itself - which gives this unwanted supernatural character much more impact than just her mid-coitus presence and running commentary. They've got to deal with that and clean up her mess - and they do it. Holly is so accommodating that she even tries to split the difference and turn their situation into a sort of necrophiliac ménage à trois.
But no, polyamory isn't in the cards. Nina's won't have it - she casually explains that, because of what happened to her body in the car crash, she can't really feel what Holly's trying to do to her anyway. In fact, she doesn't even want to be around. Her periodic re-emergence into the physical realm does not seem to be by choice. She's annoyed by it. But as long as her memory and her legacy loom large - as is the case for Rob and, in an increasingly neurotic way, for Holly as well - she'll keep coming back.
O'Shaughnessy's performance is paramount to the way those scenes work - and the film's comic underpinnings belong almost entirely to her. This posthumous Nina is halfheartedly jealous, sardonically arrogant, cruelly mocking, and yet ultimately rather apathetic about it all. She never asked to be here, but she's here all the same - what else is she supposed to do? Psychologically torturing the new girlfriend is just about her only option. Her scenes feel a lot like that Sin City driving scene between Clive Owen and Benicio del Toro, his half-beheaded passenger, the latter self-satisfiedly taunting the former from within the protected sanctuary of death itself.
Though Nina Forever grounds itself nicely in the emotional realities of the two central characters, Nina's presence still makes for a nifty allegorical device, representing the kinds of things one inherits when embarking on a relationship with a new partner - the problems and hangups that get in the way. Exes, heartbreak, mistrust, all kinds of personal history. In Rob's case, his just happens to appear in physical form. For Holly, that physical manifestation turns into her own jealous obsession. Y'know - standard relationship problems. Those kids will work things out, I just know it. Holly and Rob Forever.