Rose: A Love Story follows a young couple in the grips of a mysterious illness, testing if love is enough to stay together.
Rose: A Love Story is the perfect idyllic depiction of a rural lifestyle. A young couple living in the woods, cultivating and eating the fruits of the land. Landscapes covered in snow. A house that runs with minimal electricity, relying mostly on romantic soft candlelight. The man sets and checks their bunny traps, while the woman steadily but slowly works her way through writing her novel on her antique typewriter. Coffee comes out of a mocha pot and dinner exists of rabbit, potatoes and carrots for him, a smooth and creamy stew of freshly fed leeches for her. If you ever wondered what Twilight would look like it it featured adults and it was realistic and set in Britain – this would be it. Rose (Sophie Rundle) and Sam (Matt Stokoe) live their days as any young couple in love, from cuddling in bed to going on dates. Only, with a slightly inconvenient mysterious illness that is preventing Rose to go out in the daylight, and restricts her diet to that thick red metallic-tasting fluid craved by the world’s most beloved folkloric figure: the vampire.
Jennifer Sheridan’s feature-length directorial debut is a strangely soothing tale of two people’s commitment to each other when all odds are against them, and how to keep your life normal in the most abnormal of situations. Described as a “British horror“, Rose: A Love Story is very definitely a watchable film even for those for whom the words “jump scare” can result in immediate nightmares (and I’m not just talking about me). Sophie’s performance as Rose is so wholesome that it is impossible to be frightened when her vampire-side overtakes her. Combined with Matt Stokoe’s loving role of her husband Sam, it is very easy to get caught up in their tender and caring relationship – completely forgetting the fact that a very dangerous illness is staring them (and you) right in the face.
In the last 30 minutes, the couple is joined on screen by Olive Gray as Amber, and what follows is an exposition of what homely life could have been like. With Amber as a medium, the viewer finally hears some of Sam’s inner thoughts and feelings, which, to be honest, you will be dying to know, because of his otherwise sombre and thoughtful demeanor. Amber is young but bright-eyed, and effectively manages to pierce through Rose and Sam’s carefully composed lives. The confrontation with Rose’s illness results in a final scene that has both traditional horror trademarks and a, heart-stopping, open-ending. Being consumed and controlled by a force other than your own is a theme that lies heavy throughout the course of Rose: A Love Story. With its unique situation, it certainly meaningfully explores how far love goes in a relationship.
For the romantics who like to venture in slightly dark fantasy worlds, this film will be the perfect recipe for a stormy night tucked in on your sofa. The absence of actual horror elements makes the narrative really come forward and allows for it to wander towards the more traditional philosophical questions about relationships. The presence of the mysterious illness can thus take on various allegorical meanings, which adds another layer to the narrative of Rose: A Love Story. Though it’s not a horror film in the traditional sense, Rose and Sam’s lives are quite horrifically changed, and the film shows how they deal with the realities and aftermath of what usually happens in horror films, a post-horror if you like.
With Rose: A Love Story, Jennifer Sheridan ventures in a new and unexplored territory when it comes to the horror, fantasy and romance genres. The warmth that is instilled in this bone-chilling depiction of life shows us that, whatever the circumstances, we are all human after all. She takes the question of “what if?” and extends it to the surreal and supernatural, though treating it in a realistic and serious manner. I am sure that more films, in the future, will follow this first wander into the crossover of the realistic with the surreal. It is quite soothing to know that horrific circumstances do not always have to mean horror, and that love and commitment can be found in the strangest of conditions.
Rose: A Love Story premiered at the BFI London Film Festival on 13-16 October 2020.
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