{BFI London Film Festival} Rose: A Love Story – First Look Review

Rose: A Love Story is an unusual, if not fully explored take on domestic horror

There is very little clue in the title of the film by Jennifer Sheridan, premiered at this year’s London Film Festival, that might give away this is a history of domestic horror, after all. Make no mistake because Rose: A Love Story is a discrete exercise in building tension, one that doesn’t rely on jump scares and tricks but is rooted in dialogue.

A tight, dry movie revolving around the two protagonists’ performances, this soft horror peaks in the exchanges between Rose, played by Gentleman Jack’s Sophie Rundle, and Sam, portrayed by Matt Stokoe, who also penned the script. In a nearly post-apocalyptic scenario, the couple has decided to shield themselves from society, trying to live off the grid in a cabin in the middle of a remote forest covered in snow. Rose and Sam are in love, yet something looms over the nest they’ve built for themselves. When prying, external forces make their way into their secluded home in the woods — a silent, eerie atmosphere reminiscing of A Quiet Place — the young husband and wife will have to reckon with their own unspoken trauma.

Rose isn’t immediately, obviously terrifying and might not appeal to all horror fans. It is an unusually delicate take on vampirism, enhanced by Rose’s seemingly fragile, soft-spoken, gracious demeanor, which makes the rare, scattered scary segments all the more convincing. Her condition is portrayed beautifully, handled with care as one would do in dealing with mental illness. Rose’s frail appearance suggests she might be struggling with depression as a consequence of her nature, slowly taking an emotional toll on her and her relationship with Sam. She, in fact, has episodes of body dysmorphia and lack of appetite that are extremely humanizing and not overplayed.

Courtesy of Mini Productions

On the other hand, Sam displays an alpha male attitude as he goes to great lengths to protect Rose from herself. The balance between them shifts continuously, getting to a point where he almost seems more dangerous than his lovely, deadly bride. The cinematography by Martyna Knitter relies on a cold, neon color grading that makes this contrast between Sam and Rose even more jarring. It’s an alternation of blue and cold white hues for the indoors where Rose is relegated to and red flashes when Sam is in town, venting his frustrations in violent retaliations.

Rose: A Love Story is also peppered throughout with moments of domestic intimacy, where resorting to leeches to drain blood or skinning rabbits feel as mundane as peeling potatoes or taking a bath. Rundle and Stokoe are a couple in real life, and it shows. Their scenes feel natural and relatable one nearly forgets their lives are at stake. Yet, as uninvited guest Amber (Olive Gray) threatens to upend this unstable equilibrium, the audience is well aware that tragedy is only one blood drop away. Much like Chekhov’s gun, the protagonist is a time bomb ready to go off, but has nothing of the emotionless monsters or cocky, fanged charmers we’ve come to know through most pop-culture depictions. She is a writer and a wife, someone who would rather trade her unusual appetite for the most painfully normal of existences.

However, by insisting on Rose’s quiet longing for domestic bliss and motherhood, possibilities she could never be afforded, the movie ends up dimming her potentially destructive force and struggles to keep the viewer engaged at all times. Despite Sheridan’s movie makes it up by adding wild card Amber and rewarding the audience with an explosive finale, Rose: A Love Story would have benefited from letting the titular character explore her thirst, and herself, in all its darkest aspects.

Courtesy of Mini Productions

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