Claire Oakley’s debut feature MAKE UP swirls through ripples of psychedelia to develop a tactile exploration of the coming-of-age resonation that deeply respects the realities of LGBTQ+ themes of self-discovery. Oakley experiments with visual juxtapositions to set the tone of the maladaptive landscape that zigzags through the semiotics of rural horror, to assert the existential torment at the core of Oakley’s characterisation. MAKE UP is an ode to the experimental roots of New Queer Cinema; with an unsparing genuineness and a heart of its own.
Eighteen-year-old Ruth arrives in the dead of night at a Cornish caravan park where her boyfriend Tom stays and works. Not long after she begins to settle in, she suspects Tom of being unfaithful after finding a long red hair on his uniform. As she goes on her solo detective mission to uncover the truth about her boyfriend, she finds a suspect in another employee, Jade. Where cynicism forms the pair’s relationship, a friendship quickly blossoms, leading to a deeper connection that crystallises Ruth’s journey for identity and self-acceptance.
While Oakley’s screenplay is simplistic, she manages to glide her feature through the dream-like canvas that is painted through the ominously idyllic countryside. The setting of MAKE UP has a cultural nostalgia that manages to break through its restrictive foundation. Although there may be a subconsciously instilled sense of Britishness to the holiday park, Oakley manages to blur the regional lines of her landscape to form a universal connection of shared existential displacement: a place that exists everywhere but nowhere at all. Within Oakley’s sensual drama there is a hypnotically calming disposition; as Ruth wanders through the astral terrain, she begins to find what she’s always been looking for.
Molly Windsor’s performance as Ruth is distinctively compelling for the little script she has to work with, she radiates the quiet sexual confusion with a delicacy that marries well with Oakley’s surrealist undertones. Windsor embraces the stillness of Ruth’s reserved nature, while simultaneously stimulating the painful disquiet of Ruth’s internal turmoil and the search for herself in the Cornwall mist. Stefani Martini’s creation of the free-spirited Jade develops a necessary equilibrium with Ruth’s introversion; she has alluring independence and self-assuredness that serves as a stark contrast to Windsor’s fragility in her role. With strong performances and atmospheric euphony; Oakley resounds the perfect pitch for minimalistic cinema, with biting integrity that glistens through the opening sequence right until the credits roll.
MAKE UP is an impressive debut feature, transitioning in theme and tone with ease and confidence, making Oakley one to watch out for in the circle of independent filmmakers. Oakley manages to capture the static of the bridge between youth to adulthood, through the sensory canvas of Oakley’s Cornwall, to the consuming abyss of soul-searching in the faint light of the countryside moon. Oakley’s feature has the power to evoke a longing to relive the cusp of adulthood, even with the growing pains we try to forget.