“Imagine being fucked by someone that intense” says Holly, with eyes widening, at the start of British film-makers Ben and Chris Blaine’s horror/romance “Nina Forever” (2015). Holly (Abigail Hardingham) says those words after learning about the suicide attempt of supermarket co-worker Rob (Cian Barry), who had lost his longtime lover Nina (Fiona O’ Shaughnessy) to an accident. Rob lives in a purgatory, enshrouded by his grief, while Holly may want to fix this guy, desiring some of that devotion he had shown for his dead girlfriend. Is Holly’s pursuit really about desiring true love or fixing up grief? Because she is called as ‘a weird little girl’ and also when her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend tells ‘you are so nice’, Holly lashes at him “fuck off, you know nothing about me”. Apart from her uncanny attitude, we really don’t know much about Holly. But, she is definitely a fascinating character. Not because she wants to help a grieving man from his emotionless existence; but because she puts her desire first (even when it gradually becomes obsession) and comes off as the only one in the film to make active choices.
So, where does the horror element come from? And how do Holly’s active choices accentuates her inner darkness? The horror elements arrives when Holly in an intense lovemaking session with Rob (talking about Holly’s desire or obsession, this intense f**king happens at her first date) witnesses dead Nina crawling up into the bed. Alas, unlike ghost movies, Nina takes up a corporeal form. She is very much looks like the dead, as she is drenched in blood and with a twisted body, although Nina isn't just interested in haunting. She plainly asks Holly on what’s she doing with her boyfriend in their bed. Interestingly, both the living doesn’t look rattled at seeing dead Nina. Rob accepts Nina being there and even introduces her to Holly and vice-versa. Nevertheless, after the initial repugnance, Holly makes an active choice of going through the relationship with Rob and to let this implacable, blood-stained corpse rest near them on bed, during the intimate sessions (although Nina never wants to reason with Holly).
Despite being labeled as ‘horror-comedy romance’, “Nina Forever” doesn’t veer off into “Burying the Ex” territory, desperately trying to extract few chuckles. The film rather seeks for incisive emotional catharsis and asks resonating questions about coping with death and on self-inflicted fixations. The film starts off as a straightforward, minor study of grief with sprinkles of black comedy, but it transforms to become a study of darkness and obsession within Holly. It is more or less a character piece, wearing the masque of gore-and-nudity horror. On one hand, it works as the study of painful experiences and past griefs, while on the other hand it is an examination of inexperience and darkness. And, in spite of literally being a standout character, Nina doesn’t overshadow Holly, who unlike Rob and Nina gets to explore different emotional territories. And, Abigail Hardingham who plays Holly does it with absolute conviction.
Blaine brothers paint their frames with white and grey to stress on the characters’ disappointment and world-weariness. They go for realist drama within what that 'Clive Barker' twisted territory. The sequences between Rob and Nina’s parents seem to be in 'Mike Leigh' dominion. The premise is quite monstrous and queasy, but the directors’ infusion of the magical realist elements perfectly convey the real human emotions of compulsion and grief. So, within all these weird happenings, the directors have tried to imbue narrative elements that bear certain resemblance to the purposes of everyday life. Of course, it is so weird to see blood-soaked spirit and a girl trying to appease (in the most unthinkable manner) the specter’s presence, but once we are able to settle into the characters’ realm, it becomes a disquieting, grounded fable about dead love and obsession.
The script is an amalgamation of different character perspectives and so those feelings & desires are pushed out in various directions, simultaneously. The script is not only about delusions of Holly proving her darkness; it also examines Rob’s own delusions in that gut-wrenching dinner scene with Nina’s parents. Of course, this is a choice that at times becomes tonally distracting. The narrative tries to contemplate both the relationship baggage and dark obsessions, which despite the uniqueness affects the pacing. Nevertheless, the stagings don’t turn out to be pedantic to make us lose interest. One of the commendable aspects in the direction is how on-screen sex is not portrayed as a source of titillation (although the posters may give us a different standpoint). Fundamentally, the narrative gets structured throughout the physical encounters. In one scene, Rob uses letter presses and manages to leave surface mark on Holly before their kinky sexual encounter. It is the sequence, where the superficial temporary tattoos represent the couples’ love for each other. Once Rob, begins to heal from grief, Holly begins to lose interest on loving like those erasable marks, but her obsession for Nina goes skin-deep.
“Nina Forever” (99 minutes) is weird little thoughtful movie, which despite its pacing problems, remains intriguing till the end. It works as an examination of young woman coming to terms with her own darkness & obsession and also as a restrained meditation on grief & death.