NINA FOREVER Review | SXSW 2015

     March 28, 2015

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Think you’ve had enough big screen love triangles? I can guarantee you’ve never seen one quite like the relationship in Chris and Ben Blaine’s feature debut, Nina Forever.

The movie stars Abigail Hardingham as Holly. She’s training to become a paramedic, but also works at a supermarket and that’s where she falls for Rob (Cian Barry). He’s completely broken after the death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), but Holly is convinced she can fix him. They hit it off and strike up a relationship, but their budding romance almost comes to a screeching halt the first night they sleep together. Right in the middle of their hook up session, Nina pops up, and I mean literally pops up. She rises out of the bed right next to them, a bloody, broken mess, just like after her accident. It’s startling, but Holly doesn’t run. Instead, she opts to stick around and try to make it work for her and Rob – and, if necessary, for Nina as well.

Even though Nina Forever is the Blaine brothers’ first feature, they’ve written, directed and edited quite a few short films and it shows. The core concept is ingenious and easily could have carried the film, but the duo doesn’t rely on it. Every visual, facial expression and music cue in this movie serves a purpose and it all comes together to form an especially engaging, suspenseful and darkly comedic love story.

Both Holly and Rob are unique, curious characters with an abundance of layers to explore. She comes across as a kind, quiet plain Jane, but then while discussing her crush on Rob with co-workers, she’ll let bold statements slip like, “Imagine being fucked by someone that intense.” And he’s a walking example of the idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” At the start, the film presents him as an anti-social outcast, but underneath all the preconceptions the other supermarket employees have about him is a warm, bright guy who’s having a hard time moving on with his life. And who can blame him when his dead ex-girlfriend is constantly meddling in his current relationship?

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Image via SXSW

Nina’s arrival is never about nailing a jump scare. The true horror of the situation is the effect she’s got on Holly, Rob and their relationship. The dynamic between the three is downright fascinating. Nina’s insanely manipulative, but there’s no denying that she speaks the truth to a degree, and the way she looks makes her words even more cutting. Her body is absolutely mangled and O’Shaughnessy deserves some serious credit for turning the character’s physical condition into something that truly looks painful, but also has a provocative quality to it as well. The only thing the character might be missing is a peek into her past. Barry does a solid job of conveying how much Rob cared about Nina and his relationship with her parents amplifies that, but it’s impossible to know what he’s really missing without a flashback. The movie certainly plays fine without it, but I do suspect seeing their better days together would have intensified the experience.

Regardless, Nina Forever is a superb horror movie in every respect. Every single shot is well-composed, but what makes the camerawork and shot selection here a standout is that a good deal of the visuals mean something more. There’s a simple shot of roadkill on the side of the road hinting at what’s happened and foreshadowing what’s to come, an especially cheerful montage of Rob and Holly changing bloody bedsheets and, a personal favorite, this one overhead shot of Rob turning away from Nina in a blood-soaked bed as though they were having any old lover’s spat. The film’s music cues are also right on point. The songs are catchy and give the piece a good deal of energy (fingers crossed for a soundtrack soon), and the score is key to solidifying the unique tone, most notably during this wonderfully over-the-top graveyard scene.

The brilliant concept does come with an inherent appeal, but the Blaine brothers make the movie so much more than just a clever idea. It has the energy, tension and gore genre fans are likely looking for, but rather than spilling blood for the sake of spilling blood, the carnage actually facilitates character growth and enriches the story making Nina Forever a far more engaging and satisfying watch than most.

Grade: A-

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