Director Claire Oakley aims high in her feature length debut, Make Up, blending elements of psychological horror, romance, and mystery into a bizarre, yet eerily enthralling, coming of age tale that refuses the constrictions of the formulas. It is, ultimately, a film of discovery, concerning a young girl’s first love and first case of jealousy.
Compelling though Make Up often is, however, you get the sense that the film’s aims may be higher than its reach. Oakley, who also wrote the film, has admittedly put a lot onto this relatively small plate. Coming in at a brisk eighty minutes and some change, the film often tries to do too much with how little space it’s been given.
It’s frustrating and revelatory in turns, offering up glimpses of brilliance that never quite grow bright enough to truly shine even while showcasing everything that Oakley brings to the table as both a filmmaker and writer.
The film follows Ruth (Molly Windsor) who joins her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn), at the holiday park her lives and works at on the beaches of Cornwall in the UK. Once there, she begins to suspect her love of infidelity after finding long, red hair in his trailer. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, Ruth slowly descends into a put of jealousy and obsessions as she attempts to find out the truth about her boyfriend’s life.
Windsor plays Ruth with a quiet naivete of a young woman who’s never had the chance to find out who or what she is. Despite the open beaches and dunes of her new home, her freedom gives her a kind of claustrophobic air as she is forced, for the first time in her life, to confront herself in ways she’d never previously conceived. Windsor is inarguably brilliant in the role and manages to capture the unspoken frustrations of the young love and self-discovery.
For all its positives though, Make Up does plod somewhat near the middle of the film. It never derails anything and the resultant payoff does make up for it, but Oakley almost seems to play her cards a little too close to the chest, and the film suffers some a bit of obtuseness as it approaches the middle of the second act.
Still, it’s a gorgeous looking film that suggests a talent much larger than Oakley was able to work with here. For a first feature, Make Up is an overall pleasure that explores the perils of self-discovery and growing up through a distinctly feminine eye. Even with an uneven act two, it remains a powerful musing on self that deftly balances its disparate genres and influences to create an engaging cinematic experience.