Married couple Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle) are living a quiet, simple life in a remote woodland farmhouse. While Rose spends her days indoors, tapping out a novel on a typewriter, Sam is out in the peaceful, snow-covered woods, setting traps and hunting animals. But, right from the outset, it’s clear that this is anything but a relaxing couples retreat.
As Sam cautiously goes about his work, rifle in hand, it’s obvious that he is alert and on edge, flinching at the slightest sounds that come from beyond the trees. Persistent, ominous music informs us that something isn’t quite right and succeeds in quickly putting us on edge too. And when Sam does return to the farmhouse, we learn that Rose has been locked inside, with all of the windows boarded up, only the slightest slivers of light entering the gloomy rooms.
Sam and Rose are clearly a couple in love, their actions and conversations appearing genuine and perfectly normal. But occasionally the topic of conversation veers towards the unusual, and we continue to be drip-fed even more sinister clues as to what’s actually going on in their lives. When Rose cuts herself while preparing dinner, black veins pulse through her finger. Meanwhile, Sam heads off to an ultraviolet-lit room, where he attaches leeches to his body, casually sitting to read a book while they set to work, gorging on his blood. When the couple heads outside for a walk one night, Rose wears a face mask while Sam doesn’t. And she talks of “a poison inside her”. You have a fairly good idea of what’s going on, but the answers to any questions you have don’t come easy, and we’re constantly left guessing at which direction the movie is going to take.
Jennifer Sheridan’s feature directorial debut has a wonderfully claustrophobic feel to it, perfectly capturing feelings of isolation, set against the beautiful backdrop of a Welsh forest during Winter. Questions hang throughout – how did Rose get this way, what kind of life did the couple lead beforehand, what actually is this illness doing or going to do to her? We’re kept in suspense throughout and even when a young runaway called Amber stumbles across the couple, and stays with them overnight, the answers still don’t come easy. Amber just seems to accept the fact that Sam is dropping his trousers in front of her in order to attach leeches to himself. And that she must sleep with the ultraviolet light left on in her room…
As we neared the very end of the movie, I began to wonder if any of those answers would ever come, or if we would be left to make up our own minds. But thankfully, a quick and frantic last-minute change of pace changed all of that, and still managed to end on something of a cliffhanger!
Writer Matt Stokoe (who also plays Sam) says of writing ‘Rose’ that while watching traditional vampire movies he was struck by the macabre, horror aspects of the vampire genre and the general avoidance of emotional depth shown in the figure of the ‘monster’. The result of those observations is a beautifully simple movie that focuses on the love of a married couple rather than the monster that threatens to overpower their relationship. Sam shows that he will do anything for Rose as they struggle with her life-altering illness. Theirs is indeed a true love story.