Vampires have long been a staple of the horror genre, harking back to the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu. However on screen portrayals of the mythical creature have ranged widely throughout the decades. Initially characterised as mere bloodsucking monsters, vampires are increasingly represented as misunderstood outsiders – take Spike from Buffy as an example. The debut feature from British director Jennifer Sheridan brings a refreshing angle to the genre, painting the species’ bloodthirsty affection as more of an illness, framing her vampire in a domestic setting and tender relationship.

Rose: A Love Story centres on a young couple who have escaped from society to live self-sufficiently deep in the woods. Sam (Matt Stokoe) cares for his wife Rose (Sophie Rundle) who suffers from a rare and terrifying illness, whilst she attempts to finish writing her book. But their secluded existence threatens to become upended entirely when a young runaway stumbles into one of Sam’s animal traps, setting in motion a deadly set of actions.

Sheridan has crafted a surprisingly tender horror-drama, shaped by a slow burn sense of dread which lingers ever in the background. Their unique daily routine, which includes using leeches to extract blood from his legs and Rose wearing a mask when coming into contact with anything from the outside world, helps keep her “illness” at bay. However the efficiency of this involved activity balances on a knife’s edge, with the smallest change threatening to destroy the secluded microcosm which they have so meticulously built.

This is certainly a different and intriguing take on the horror genre and vampire lore, focusing on the heartbreaking scenario of a couple facing an insurmountable ‘illness’ together. Much like Natalie Erika James’ Relic, the ‘monster’ is framed as having a debilitating, mental or terminal illness, bringing a deep sense of compassion and understanding to proceedings. The addition of an outsider inevitably ramps up the tension and even though you can preempt what’s about to unfold, you still genuinely root for the couple.

Stars Matt Stokoe and Sophie Rundle wonderfully portray an intimate and nuanced relationship, as a couple in real life, their well developed chemistry shines through. Unfolding at the beginning as what appears to be a drama, there’s a real and relatable quality to their relationship; Rose switches the lights off when they have sex as she’s self conscious of how pale she is, while Sam struggles with communication issues. As the main twist unfurls, Rose touchingly vocalises her concerns that her illness is leading her to become a burden to Sam, but all she wants for him is a normal life. Steadfastly devoted to his wife, Sam reacts as most carers do to their loved ones who they’re slowly losing – denies that it’s affecting them. It really is heartbreaking and so tender.

Cinematographer Martyana Knitter has impressively created a truly atmospheric and claustrophobic setting; filmed in a snowy Welsh forest, the cabin is completely surrounded by woodlands, isolated well away from society. The lack of lighting, except for the eerie UV lamp, combined with the cramped and intimate sets, make for an eerily immersive entrance into their world. Whilst the film is light in the shocks department, the team more than make up for with the growing sense of anxiety throughout.

Verdict

Rose: A Love Story is a surprisingly tender and affecting drama which makes for a refreshing take on the genre. This is a suspenseful and claustrophobic debut from Jennifer Sheridan, who’s isolated setting and mask-wearing characters eerily embody today’s pandemic life.

Rating: ★★★½

 

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