Make Up review: Beautifully atmospheric coming-of-age mystery
Ivan Radford | On 01, Aug 2020
Director: Claire Oakley
Cast: Molly Windsor, Stefanie Martini, Joseph Quinn
There’s something inherently unnerving about the unfamiliar – not just the unknown but the familiar made strange. Like Don’t Look Now’s haunting portrait of Venice, Make Up immerses us in out-of-season Cornwall, a day-lit ghost town of sparse isolation that’s a world away from the crowded beaches of news reports and postcards.
Into the universe comes reserved teenager Ruth (Molly Windsor), who is trying to reconnect with her boyfriend of several years, Tom (Joseph Quinn). Their slow reunion, though, takes a turn for the worse when she finds lipstick on his mirror in a shade that she’s not worn before, and a strand of red hair on his clothes. And so she plays detective, working on the vacant caravan site to fumigate each mobile home, while tracking down the mysterious other women.
That appears to be Jade (Stefanie Martini), a confident redhead who seems older and more experienced – and not just in the ways of the laundry room. As Ruth gets to know Jade, though, what begins as a dark suspicion grows into a burgeoning obsession.
Soon enough, Ruth’s drifting away from Tom, and trying to piece together what it is about Jade that has had such an effect on her – a mix of fear and quivering trepidation. Molly Windsor is superb as the timid protagonist gradually emerging from her shell, while Martini is a vivid, bubbly screen presence as the scarlet-nailed force of nature. They move from heated conversation to intimate snooping with an intensity that soon excludes anyone else around them.
Weaving an ambiguous web of intrigue and intimidation, director Claire Oakley proves a master of atmosphere – to the point where it’s hard to believe this is her first film. DoP Nick Cooke and composer Ben Salisbury add to the absorbing haze, from the tarpaulin-covered weirdness of sealed-off caravans to the beautiful Cornish landscape. Together they mine the English tourist hotspot for a fertile mix of coming-of-age dread and horror-inflected internal tensions that recalls the psychosexual mysteries of Beast and Thelma. Sometimes, the scariest unknown is yourself.