SXSW Film Review: Make Up is a self-discovery tale dressed up like a psychological thriller

*The AU Review will continue with its planned SXSW 2020 coverage.  We have been in contact with the respective representatives for available films in order to give them the coverage they intended.

Perhaps diving a little too heavily into the metaphorical stance on storytelling, Claire Oakley‘s Make Up is a self-discovery tale dressed up like a psychological thriller that eventually shifts to something far more emotional.

The setting is appropriately moody to begin with though as young teen Ruth (Molly Windsor), perhaps a runaway, sets up residence with her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn) in a Cornwall caravan park.  It’s not the most romantic setting but they appear to be making the most of their time together, that is until Ruth finds a lipstick smear on his mirror and a long strand of red hair on one of his work shirts.

Ruth, particularly not red-haired, spirals into bouts of emotionally-charged suspicion, and Tom’s nonchalant reactions aren’t putting her at ease either.  It’s in these moments that writer/director Oakley suggests a darker, more psychologically-driven story as Ruth’s surroundings appear to be warping her reality; strange screeches at night, the deathly stare of the across-the-way neighbour, and the imagery of a figure holed up in a camper-van that’s been sealed off for fumigation, to name a few.

The introduction of Jade (Stefanie Martini) appears to confirm Ruth’s suspicions though, when the mysterious, vivacious park employee swans about with an alluring confidence that ultimately only entices Ruth more.  An unlikely friendship is formed, an act that strangely irks Tom whilst forcing Ruth on a journey of self-discovery.

Given that Oakley so unnervingly creates tension and unease in the early moments of the film – images of Ruth graphically pulling her own fingernail off and spying on a heated sexual tryst between two women in a shower stall suggest Ruth’s own psyche can’t be trusted – it’s peculiarly anticlimactic where the narrative leads.  There’s a distance between us as viewers and the characters on-screen, and given that the film’s reaching point is supposedly an emotional peak for Ruth, it’s ultimately an underwhelming moment that doesn’t gel with the suggestive horror mentality Make Up alluded to.

A few too many false plot strands also stalls the film’s flow – and at under 90 minutes it’s quite telling how the length is felt – with misleading narratives seemingly only implemented to throw audiences off.  As Make Up packages itself as a tale of self-discovery, a little fine-tuning could’ve transformed this feature into more resonating.  That being said, Oakley’s evidently a talented filmmaker, there’s an aberrant spirit present here, and though the emotional aspect isn’t as deep as she may have intended, the universal truths Make Up addresses can’t be denied.

TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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