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Director: Jemma Carlin-Wells
Cast: Jemma Carlin-Wells, Louis John Brzozka
Plot: Beth (Carlin-Wells) is left devastated at the suicide of her twin sister. But as she retraces the events leading to her death, could it have been murder?

Tainted Love is a short film, available to watch on Youtube for free, right now.

Jemma Carlin-Wells’ directorial debut is a solid entry into the Gothic genre. It discusses a sister getting over her twin’s death, perhaps so wrapped up in her own perception of events, she cannot see the hints that something darker is afoot. Taking one of the more iconic symbols in the genre, the doppelgänger, Carlin-Wells explores the ways it can be used in cinema. Doppelgängers have always made for a good footnote in horror, as they represent a reflection into ourselves. Right from the off, Isla represents Beth’s darker and more private side to an exaggerated extreme. When Isla is killed, we could argue there is an imbalance in Beth’s life, which causes the downwards spiral in her own character. Doppelgängers have also been used as a suggestion we are replaceable or there is a being out there with the power to steal our lives from us. With Beth’s unstable sister, Isla, we see her sister almost absorb her sister’s life, when she is unhappy with her own. Desperate to replicate Beth’s success in life, she literally steals elements from her life in an attempt to be happy, which sees Beth, unwittingly, at the centre of her crumbling existence. And finally, the other use of doppelgängers used here, is a window into the future. Is Beth looking at just the death of her twin sister? Or is she watching her own future play out in front of her? And can she realise in time to stop it? Carlin-Wells starts off her story with the simple facts (her sister is dead, she had secrets), but slowly zooms out of our original understanding and adds flashbacks to widen our perspective of what is happening. While maybe the short’s only mistake is a sometimes lack of clarity in which time-zone we are currently looking at, as a whole, we have a very chilling story of a sister whose life is being ripped apart, without her even realising.

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But it’s not just Carlin-Wells writing that shines, but her acting. Playing two sisters can be challenging, as she has to work hard to separate them from within themselves. There are simple tricks used (Isla always wears darker clothing to establish her being the less moral of the twins), but Carlin-Wells uses her performance to make the majority of the changes. Isla is unsure of her own life, scrabbling for a sense of purpose. Beth is more sure-headed, but as the story progresses, perhaps slips into a more Isla state of character (see doppelgänger discussion above). She makes the perfect Gothic helpless heroine for her own story. But every Gothic tale needs a villain and Tainted Love writes up a chillingly cruel one. Louis John Brzozka is a doppelgänger of his own, a boyfriend who starts off the short so pleasantly perfect. Louis John Brzozka uses his natural charm seen from Rewind and To My Dear Son and creates his usual brand of warm-hearted hero. However, Carlin-Wells twists this stereotype, using our own perception against us and building up a horrific villain character, inspired by the likes of domineering Gothic villains like Heathcliff. It’s in the casual nature Louis John Brzozka commits his betrayal of Beth. In between his acts of cruelty, he is once again that charming lover. Only the smaller beats (taking Beth to bed when she is distressed, forcibly taking Isla home), show us the monster inside. The lack of development is the creepy note. In skipping any kind of internal debate (we never see Louis John Brzozka reflect on his actions), we can only assume he was always this monster underneath his warm smile. It means that as Tainted Love builds into its shocking finish, we are transfixed with horror at the proceedings. In short, Jemma Carlin-Wells knows how to make an introduction to the world of directors.

Final Verdict: Cleverly using Gothic trademarks, Jemma Carlin-Wells creates a Gothic tale for the modern times. A strong debut.

Three Stars

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