James Jay Edwards

Claire Oakley’s Make Up Unravels a Tense Little Arthouse Mystery

(Make Up, Mutiny Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews Make Up, a drama thriller by writer/director Claire Oakley, and starring Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, and Stefanie Martini. (Mutiny Pictures)

 

Writer/director Claire Oakley has cut her teeth in the film industry as everything from an assistant to a researcher. She’s also got an impressive resume of short films under her belt. For the next logical step in her career, she makes her feature film debut with Make Up.

Make Up is about a girl named Ruth (Molly Windsor from Three Girls) who comes to live with her boyfriend, Tom (Overlord’s Joseph Quinn), at a seaside resort caravan park where he works as a handyman. Upon her arrival, Ruth begins to find questionable things around Tom’s trailer, eyebrow-raising stuff like long stray red hairs on his clothes and lipstick stains on his mirror. As she investigates her suspicions, Ruth meets another worker at the park, a provocative girl named Jade (Stefanie Martini from Emerald City), who she thinks may be the mysterious red-haired girl. But Ruth’s feelings for Jade go way beyond petty jealousy.

 

(Make Up, theatrical release poster, Mutiny Pictures)

Claire Oakley worked as an assistant to horror luminaries Bernard Rose and The Guard Brothers, so it’s no surprise that Make Up has an eerie, tense vibe to it. She also worked with John Crowley, so there’s a decidedly Irish feel to the film as well, even though Oakley (and the film) are British. But mostly, Make Up is a hypnotic, dreamy treatise on relationships, mistrust, and betrayal. Not a horror flick, but just creepy enough to do a fairly decent impression of one.

And it’s an aesthetically beautiful film. It was shot on location in Cornwall, England, and the oceanfront setting is as much of a character in the film as any of the human players. It’s a cold movie, much colder than any movie that doesn’t include snow in it should be, which only goes to emphasize the frigid emotions of the characters. Oakley and cinematographer Nick Cooke (himself a short film legend with dozens of credits to his name) use clever camera motion, voyeuristic follow shots, and vibrant lighting to usher the viewer through the surreal economy of the narrative.

 

(Make Up, Mutiny Pictures)

From a plot standpoint, Make Up is intriguing, albeit predictable. It’s a mystery without a mystery. It’s absolutely Ruth’s story (she is in literally every scene), and the audience gets the clues as she does, but it’s a bit easier for the viewer to figure out what’s going on since Ruth is partially in denial of the situation. Still, the investigation is thrilling, even if it yields humdrum results. It’s the journey, not the destination.

That journey holds surprises for Ruth, even if it doesn’t for the audience. Ruth learns a lot about herself, conquering fears, giving in to impulses, and trusting her instincts along the way. Make Up is a film about connections, ones that are real as well as ones that are only imagined. And it’s purposely vague in its intentions, leaving much of the decision making up to the viewer.

 

(Make Up, Mutiny Pictures)

The main theme of Make Up is self-discovery in the face of self-doubt. Claire Oakley explores this theme in a unique and powerful way. And she wraps it all up with a nice little arthouse thriller bow.

 

 

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