An unnerving tale of sexual identity, paranoia and jealousy, Make Up marks the feature debut of Claire Oakley, who delivers a very assured first film here. Set in a windswept Cornish caravan park, it begins as 19 year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor) arrives to visit her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn). She soon picks up work at the park, but other worries begin to gnaw away at her.
After discovering strands of hair and a lipstick print on the mirror, she begins to believe Tom’s cheating on her. Fuelled by paranoia, along with the eerie atmosphere in this near-deserted holiday destination, her brain is sent spinning further when she befriends fellow resident Jade (Stefani Martini), a make-up artist who takes a shine to the vulnerable Ruth.
Made via iFeatures – the microbudget filmmaking scheme that’s also funded Lady Macbeth and Apostasy – Oakley’s film teeters on the brink of horror, but admirably remains restrained. Iconic films like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant loom large as influences, as Oakley conjures up a highly convincing atmosphere of dread.
One particularly clever innovation involves a subplot surrounding some of the caravan homes being fumigated and covered in plastic sheeting. With Ruth convinced she’s seeing things, the sight of a shadowy figure inside one of the homes, behind the plastic, is particularly unsettling. Oakley’s use of sound is also inspired, again charging up the atmosphere.
Windsor is superb as Ruth; after her BAFTA-winning turn in Three Girls, this confirms her as a major talent. Martini – in a role a long way from her turn as the young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect 1973 – is also thoroughly convincing. And then there’s also commendable work from Theo Barklem-Biggs (The Inbetweeners Movie) as Kai, a thuggish friend of Tom’s at the park.
Exploring sexuality and the confusion it can bring with great subtlety, Make Up craftily holds up a mirror to the inner life of its lead character. With its woozy visuals, sparse dialogue and vivid location, it’s a fine example of how to make a big impact with limited resources. Oakley is definitely a director to watch – not just for the future but for right now.
Make Up is in cinemas and available online from 31 July. For more details, click here.