Rose review – sometimes love is horror

December 12, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews


British horror romance set in a snowy forest which asks whether love can really conquer all? It might not satisfy every horror need, but I found it rewarding in its simplicity and open-endedness.



British horror romance set in a snowy forest which asks whether love can really conquer all? It might not satisfy every horror need, but I found it rewarding in its simplicity and open-endedness.

Slightly horror, slightly romance, but all drama, Rose is a beautifully made film of the slow-burn variety, about an unusual marriage.

Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle) live in a little house in the middle of a forest, miles away from the nearest small town. Their isolation is managed by Sam, apparently according to protocols they have agreed together: whether that is to keep others from coming in or to keep Rose from getting away is largely unexplored; it just is. Routines have to be maintained in order to manage an unnamed condition that Rose suffers from, and when she goes too long without eating (a diet again managed by Sam), she is struck by an aggressive episode. Rose is about the careful equilibrium in their relationship, and how it is knocked by first a change to their customary routines, and second an unexpected visitor.

Sam is the hunter-gatherer, a protector by nature, and he seems to be fulfilled by Rose’s need to be looked after. Rose stays home writing fiction, and she is both grateful and guilty about the pressures her condition can put on Sam. Stokoe and Rundle’s performances are natural and moving; thanks to this and the character writing, Rose presents an interesting case study of a loving relationship in which one partner is the other’s carer.

Rose: an interview with director Jennifer Sheridan

This relationship is a little more precarious than most, mind you, relying on rules being followed just so: it’s easy to get tripped up, especially by people from outside who are unaware. When teen runaway Amber (Olive Gray) finds herself suddenly staying in their home, it’s impossible to guess what the consequences could be. Rose is woven throughout with tension right from the start, not so much because of the plot (this is no thriller), but simply because of how off-kilter everything feels, especially in combination with Sam’s constant wary attitude. The majority of the film is set in the small house, and feels suitably claustrophobic; then you start to notice that Sam is the only one to go outdoors by himself, and when he does, he gets back to his love as soon as he can. It’s painful to watch at times (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has the baggage of an unbalanced relationship to bring to a viewing), but also tender.

Matt Stokoe wrote the screenplay, as well as portraying one of the leads, and it’s quite staggering to discover that this is his first. It’s a first feature for director Jennifer Sheridan too, well established in TV comedies and dramas, as indeed are most of the (albeit limited) cast. Rose is not the sort of indie film which screams “low budget!” or “complete beginner!” with every scene, and rightly so: the individuals in this team know what they’re doing, though from a different arena until now. Everything is delivered with self-assured patience, from Martyna Knitter’s forest cinematography to Cato Hoeben’s understated score.

Be wary though that Rose’s subtlety may not work for everyone. I found myself straining to get what was happening a few times in the first half of the film and I would encourage any viewer to just relax and see what unfolds: I reassured myself after a while that I was not slow on the uptake as such, but the situation is drip-fed to the audience, with minimal exposition and no back story. Consequently, we may anticipate what’s going to happen, but maybe not, depending on interpretation. Likewise, there is no great character development, but instead, the nature of the characters and how they fit together is revealed at the writer’s chosen pace.

Overall, Rose is a rewarding film, as much for the questions it raises as for the enjoyable hour and a half spent. What will happen after the end of the story? Is it really possible – or wise – to love someone with such commitment? Is love all you need?

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