‘Nina Forever’: SXSW Review
The Blaine brothers’ atmospheric feature offers a sometimes extreme depiction of romantic fixation
Deliberately skirting the more outrageous conventions of horror comedy with a stab at a more nuanced appreciation for the sometimes obsessive morbidity of ill-fated love, filmmakers Chris and Ben Blaine deliver a debut feature worthy of further festival play, but lacking clear breakout potential.
Although it’s an inspired gamble to introduce familiar genre elements into what’s essentially a high-strung relationship drama, Nina Forever’s repeatedly shifting tone ultimately proves more of a drawback than an asset. Unabashed sexuality, frequent nudity and plentiful gore may attract a certain following nonetheless, which could help boost the film’s profile overall.
Emotionally and physically wounded after a motorcycle crash that kills his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), Rob (Cian Barry) retreats from his former life, dropping out of a mathematics PhD program to work as a stocker in a supermarket as he attempts to pull his life back together and escape his suicidal tendencies. However, frequent visits to Nina’s gravesite and regular dinners commiserating with her parents only seem to hold back his recovery, until he meets Holly (Abigail Hardingham), a checker at the market who’s studying part-time to become a paramedic.
Since she’s been sympathetically observing his emotional turmoil from afar, Holly’s convinced that some sexual healing may be exactly what Rob needs. Their first time sleeping together, however, Nina appears in Rob’s bed, wounded and bloodied, but still very possessive. She speaks candidly with both of them, insisting that Rob never broke up with her before her death and that it’s too late to do so now. Unspeakably horrified, Holly flees, leaving Rob to reason with Nina, who refuses to be relegated to ex-girlfriend status.
It’s not long, however, before Holly reappears on Rob’s doorstep, determined to win him over, even though he’s obviously having a hard time moving on. Holly’s inspired strategy involves incorporating Nina into a hot three-way the next time she’s in bed with Rob, which seems to throw Nina at first. Although Rob repeatedly insists that Holly is now his girlfriend, Nina is soon enjoying getting physical with him again, even if she has to share him with Holly. Changing locations doesn’t seem to deter Nina either, who turns up in their hotel room while they’re trying to enjoy a weekend getaway, forcing Rob and Holly to conclude that drastic measures may be necessary.
Perhaps when the Blaine brothers were conceiving the script it seemed like the film could play like a restrained horror comedy featuring a dead lover who literally can’t let go, although the self-referentially ironic perspective that emerges is only occasionally amusing. The narrative’s clearest shortcoming, however, is an inability to offer a consistent rationale for Nina’s reappearances, even if they are a somewhat unnerving manifestation of Rob’s fixations.
Throughout the film, Nina appears to be the only one with an overt sense of humor and O’Shaughnessy relishes her taunting impositions on Rob’s love life in a manner that’s sometimes darkly comic. Barry is forced to play Rob far too straight however, much like someone who actually has to deal with the uncomfortable complications surrounding an unpredictably jealous ex-lover. Hardingham shows enticing pluck as she indefatigably attempts to outwit Nina’s machinations, but the forced practicality of her constant strategizing lacks sufficient self-parody.
The Blaines competently draw on their experience as award-winning short filmmakers by contrasting a preference for predominantly blue and gray lighting schemes with the scarlet hues of the abundant gore and specialized makeup effects that characterize Nina’s appearances. Their editorial penchant for intermittently shuffling the narrative timeline seems to serve little purpose in the absence of any specific genre objectives, however.
Production companies: Jeva Films, Charlie Productions
Cast: Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Elizabeth Elvin, David Troughton
Directors-writers: Chris Blaine, Ben Blaine
Producer: Cassandra Sigsgaard
Executive producers: Ben Gallop, Andy Gordon
Director of photography: Oliver Russell
Editors: Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Music: Daniel Teper
No rating, 97 minutes