Director: Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Cast: Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Plot: A new couple’s sex life is cursed with the fact that Rob’s (Barry) ex-girlfriend (O’Shaughnessy), who died in a car crash, comes to haunt them whenever they have sex.
Nina Forever is the kind of film that plays right into my open arms. In my opinions, the best horrors are the ones that use their monster to highlight very real problems. It Follows discusses safe sex. The Babadook discusses trauma and grief. Nina Forever is about living in the shadow of an ex-girlfriend (the metaphor focuses on a dead loved one, but I believe the reading works for the living exes as well). While it doesn’t really ever come close to laying a candle on the other two examples, because a) it isn’t very scary and b) it is as about as subtle as a zombie ex-girlfriend when it comes to conveying its themes, but it is still a very strong entry to the British horror club.
To embellish the plot a little more, it is about Cian Barry’s distraught Robert, trying to move on with his life after his girlfriend is killed in a car accident. He isn’t very good at letting go, as established by the fact his only company is evenings spent hanging out with her parents and at work, he is a volatile mess. However, he catches the eye of Hardingham’s Holly. Holly finds herself attracted to this broken man and decides to woo him, bringing him back from his path of destruction. When Rob finally gives in and decides to allow himself to let happiness in, disaster strikes. Whenever the pair of them get intimate, Nina, the titular ex-girlfriend, appears in a bloody mess, naked and broken beside them, taunting them with cruel words and harsh truths. Their relationship is constantly under attack by the physical embodiment of Rob’s past. Of course, this is all symbolic of the new girlfriend’s plight. How do you compete with the girlfriend (or boyfriend) of the past, especially one that was snatched from this world, without a proper break-up? Nina is all about the memory of a loved one, destroying the life she leaves behind. The Blaine Brothers’ direction is superb. The entire film is dotted with visual cues that build up the message into a crescendo of surprises. The blood on the sheets after her appearance symbolises the guilt their sex leaves. Holly’s a student paramedic, building up the idea that she might be in this to fix Rob, rather than love him. On top of that, Nina is everywhere. She might nab the least amount of screen time out of the three leads, but her presence is always felt, either by the tattoos on Rob’s back, the paintings hung on the wall, or even, later in the film, the empty spaces where she used to occupy. Visually, it is a tremendously powerful film, perhaps only really falling apart nearer the end, where the symbolism gets a little more heavy-handed and the script is unsure exactly where to call the story a day.
The performances are excellent, an all-round success from the three lead stars. Fiona O’Shaughnessy brings the kind of performance that cements Nina Forever into someone’s favourite cult film. It is an oxymoron of a performance. She is both lifeless, yet full of life – her body is often contorted into strange angles, her body literally broken and mangled, and her eyes are often glazing over into an eternal rest. However, her dialogue is sharp and precise. Everything that comes out of her mouth affirms the character and her struggles. Every now and again, the script will take an unexpected turn. While the story focuses on the principal couple and how Nina’s presence is ripping apart their lives, occasionally we learn how Nina feels about the situation. One line is heart-breaking: she claims she would rather get sent to a possible oblivion in death rather than be forced to lay here while her ex-boyfriend has sex with a strange female. She makes up for her eternal torment by horrifically laying into the pair of them. O’Shaughnessy is both the tragic villain of the piece and perhaps the victim. Cian Barry’s performance is interesting also. At times, he comes across as the poor bloke trapped in the middle of it all. When the story slows down, it has fun revelling in how awkward it must be for Barry to have to introduce his new girlfriend to the bloody ex lying naked on his bed. One of the best scenes of the film is a row between Barry and O’Shaughnessy revelling in the black comedy of the moment. Perhaps more interestingly, it is Barry’s character that moves on first, which brings another layer to the story. While the actor is often overshadowed by the two female actresses, it is still worth a compliment. Abigail Hardingham is where Nina Forever really takes off though. She could have been the odd one out of the trio. While Nina and Rob have this history that makes Nina’s temporary reincarnations interesting, Holly should be sentenced to the side-lines. However, it is her arc that really brings out the horror elements. She ends up becoming fascinated with the figure of Nina, the ex that refuses to let go. As she does with Rob, she wades in trying to fix everything and as the script suggests, she makes it worse. Hardingham is forced to go to some pretty dark and intimate places with her performance. It is not just the nudity and graphic content of Nina Forever, but the darkness of Holly’s mentality in the later parts of the film. She always remains the one to watch throughout the movie and is the surprising cutting edge to this slick horror.
Final Verdict: Very dark, very thought-provoking. Nina Forever is more about the characters than the horror, but its unsettling atmosphere works just as well as any scares.