Nina Forever (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Studiocanal) Running Time: 99 minutes approx.
You know the saying “Two’s company, three’s a crowd” – it’s as old as the hills and is a staple set up for many a work of fiction since time immemorial, which makes putting a fresh spin on such a well worn concept becomes increasingly harder for each new generation of story tellers.
Brothers Ben and Chris Blaine have accepted this challenge and given it a bloody good go – quite literally – with this Frightfest 2015 winning quirky black horror comedy. Rob (Cian Barry) unsuccessfully tries to kill himself by crashing his motorbike after his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) dies in a car crash.
Rob’s tragic tale peaks the interest of trainee paramedic and supermarket co-worker Holly (Abigail Hardingham) who tries to take his mind of his problems by seducing him. When they eventually get together however and hit the bedroom, they are joined by a third person – Nina. And she’s not prepared to let Rob go.
Nina Forever is a cleverly crafted film which defies being limited to just one category or genre, dipping its toe in horror, psychological drama, black comedy, tragedy and part sociological character study. Nina’s return from the dead is not your typical clinging ex-girlfriend scenario where she tries to scare Holly away, that would be too simple.
The Blaine Brothers have put a unique spin on this premise and in the process explore the true pain of losing a loved one and the catharsis of letting go of them and moving on in life. The first and most effective twist is that Nina is very much a physical phantom, completely tactile and cognizant of her surroundings.
She interrupts Holly and Rob during their love making by seeping up through the bed, naked, cut, bruised and bloodied as the day she died, causing not just a couple of shocks but an increase in Rob’s linen spending. At first Holly understandably can’t get her head around this development but she decides that Rob is worth the hassle and tries again. This time Holly tries to include Nina in their sexual exploits which also fails since Nina can’t feel anything – she is dead after all.
Where the story throws us for a loop is that this becomes Holly’s cross to bear and not Rob’s which is the usual route to take. The fact Rob has “Nina Forever” tattooed on his back is sufficient evidence for Nina to maintain her place in his heart, also stating the precedent that her death isn’t a mandate for their supposed break up. Holly thinks she can handle this but Nina has the advantage of being an omnipotent spectre to test her mettle.
One can see where the humour might derive from in this fascinating and unconventional scenario and while correct, it is liberally used and vey dark in its execution, otherwise the tone is largely sombre and serious. An example of this blackness comes in the form of a solution Holly has for exorcising Nina from their lives, which is particularly borderline tasteless but Nina naturally finds a way to pour water – or blood – on it.
Elsewhere it is the waspish and acerbic tongue of Nina which provides the dialogue with its wit and lyrical eloquence, her withering putdowns of Holly are sparkling jewels amidst a mire of unnecessary “f” words – such as when Nina refers to paramedic Holly sleeping with Rob as making her “Florence Nightingale job sharing with Linda Lovelace!”. Scary and sarcastic.
Rob and Holly are not the only ones suffering and the film takes a slight sidestep to detail the pain of Nina’s parents, Sally (Elizabeth Elvin) and Dan (David Troughton), to whom Rob pays regular visits. In a nuanced take on the grief-handling dichotomy, Dan has taken to writing bad fiction whilst listening to Nina’s favourite music, with Sally basically keeping Rob on a leash as her only living connection to her late daughter. She may have given Rob her blessing to move on but meeting Holly at a painfully awkward lunch twists that knife in deeper.
Where the scripting excels itself is in the ever changing ambiguity in where we should be looking to locate the exact centrifugal force of this tale; in essence it should be Rob who is the connecting point for all the principal players, but Holly is as much a catalyst for the changes in everyone’s lives as Nina’s passing, while Nina herself is the ever looming presence regardless of her physical absence.
It’s nice to see what might be lazily labelled as straight up horror take such a thoughtful and intelligence approach to the subject of grieving without producing a depressingly bleak and bludgeoning meditation. The horror tag of course comes not just from Nina’s supernatural presence but the bloody warning signs of her impending appearance in the form of the film’s recurring motif of the bed sheets breaking out in red blotches.
Elevating this film beyond the usual horror/psychological drama fare are the strikingly sublime performances from the women, deserving of recognition on a par with any Oscar/BAFTA nomination. Keeping the tone and mood natural and unaffected, Abigail Hardingham delivers a committed and credible turn as Holly, essaying a young woman whose own dark idiosyncrasies are turned on her with life altering consequences.
Fiona O’Shaughnessy is superbly caustic and eerily overwhelming as the scathing spectre Nina, deliciously delivering her verbose musings with an acidic aftertaste. Cian Barry fits rather well into the nondescript middleman role of Rob without being too easily dominated, while veteran David Troughton plays a blinder, building Dan up as a bewildered lost cause until his final act outburst.
The Blaine Brothers have adopted a slight arthouse approach to the film in terms of shot choices, composition and scene construction but this helps give Nina Forever its unique identity. It is this distinctly British quiet but bold veneer which helps make this a film experience that will linger for quite some time after.
5.1 DTS HF Master Audio
English HOH Subtitles
Audio Commentary: Sound
Audio Commentary: Picture
A Look Behind Nina Forever
Things That Are Not There
Things That Were Not There
Rating – ****
Man In Black