Rose: A Love Story – Jennifer Sheridan’s debut feature is a masterclass in slow-burn horror

5th April 2021

Rose: A Love Story is available to rent or buy now

Isolation, love, fear and belonging – did we ever think back in 2019 these words would carry such meaning in 2020/21? The global pandemic around us has not only changed our lives beyond all belief but re-framed what it means to love, belong and achieve security. Our lives spent walking around the same four walls, the people with whom we live, a rock or chain depending on the connection and love forged. During these times, we have all become accustomed to isolation, leading to unexpected freedom for some, while for others, entrapment.

For those with long term health conditions, COVID 19 has been particularly challenging. Many sealing themselves away for the past year, their only contact a loved one or occasional deliveries. These themes will undoubtedly play into the horror genre for many years to come; however, in Rose: A Love Story, these themes were present in filming before COVID 19 hit. Here, horror, isolation and love find a unique voice in the British wilderness; Jennifer Sheridan’s debut feature film both striking in its slow-burn horror and beautiful in its creative take on vampire folklore. However, added to this, we have a beautiful story of lockdown love, its characters ultimately doomed in their ability to keep the outside world at bay.

Living isolated from humankind in the deep woods of Northern England, Rose (Sophie Rundle) and Sam (Matt Stokoe) spend their days living by a set of stringent rules. Their small cottage, hidden from public view while harbouring a deadly secret. Here, Rose suffers from a mysterious illness that keeps her hidden from daylight, her only source of nutrition pots of leaches. Meanwhile, Sam hunts in the forest, his traps catching unsuspecting rabbits only he can eat. But, when a runaway stranger invades the peace of their home, Rose and Sam find their lives suddenly scrutinised like never before. Their enduring love wrapped in a need to maintain isolation and security at all costs. The comforting yet stark nature around them invaded by the reality that their lives can no longer function free from view.

Penned by Matt Stokoe, Rose: A Love Story owes much to Shult’s 2017 It Comes at Night. While at the same time playing with the themes of isolation, love and protection found in Leave No Trace 2018. However, in vampire mythology, its place is rooted firmly in the romance of Only Lovers Left Alive. The monster horror of Dracula left on the sidelines. In fact, the word vampire is never mentioned, with only fleeting glimpses of the trauma Rose and Matt manage daily.

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This creates a horror that skirts the genre’s boundaries, never succumbing to cheap jump scares in building tension. Here, the horror of Rose and Matt’s journey is bound in the fragility of their lives and fear of the world outside of their cottage. A fear demonstrated beautifully in the final scene as Stokoe and Sheridan close their film with a homage to the pitchforks and flaming torches of Frankenstein.

While Jennifer Sheridan’s film may be mythological in construct, its delivery is not; both Stokoe and Rundle ensuring Rose and Matt are based in a ‘real world’ struggle for peace and love. Their lives together echoing the fear, apprehension and commitment found in many relationships invaded by illness. With Rose suffering immeasurable guilt for the condition keeping them locked away, while Matt does everything physically possible to protect her. The result of which locks the audience into Rose and Matts struggle from the outset. Each viewer, desperate to see a happy ending for the couple by the time the film nears its end. However, as with all great romantic horrors, we are more than aware that their isolation cannot last forever.

Finally, this brings me back to my opening comments about the interplay between Rose: A Love Story and our current pandemic world. Here, the vampire horror of Sheridan’s film feels almost inconsequential. With Rose and Matt’s journey echoing many of the fears that are rooted in our current reality. The resulting film managing to reflect the world we see while speaking to us on a far deeper, social level. The fear of the outside and the safety of the inside reflected through our pandemic journey.


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