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Nina Forever
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by Jay Seaver

"Some people are really hard to leave behind."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Ben & Chris Blaine have a heck of a great idea for a movie here - when Rob (Cian Barry), who tried to commit suicide after the death of his girlfriend but failed, starts seeing Holly (Abigail Hardingham), there are certain weird things about the relationship, but none more than how the bloody, back-broken, naked Nina (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) starts appearing when they have sex. That is something to get past.

Aren't ghosts always, though? I've mentioned before that ghosts are best used as the past given form, and Nina fits that description perfectly - Holly is attracted to Rob in large part because of her romanticized perception of his tragic history, which all but assures that this particular baggage is an integral part of their relationship. It's a really neat trick - as much as hauntings and sex are often connected in horror movies, it's usually immediately violent either in terms of murder or rape (because she doesn't realize who/what she's actually sleeping with at that moment), while Nina mostly brings hurtful words and major cleaning issues. She's emotional pain that a girl like Holly sees herself as rising to the occasion and dealing with.

Nina is no silent specter who is maddening as much for her lack of explanation as anything else, either - the film eventually goes into interesting places with where her presence comes from, and she's quite willing to chat about why she disdains both Rob and Holly. The words that the Blaines give her really nail how the past can be both tremendously cruel and utterly uncaring at the same time.And while I stumbled a bit on O'Shaughnessey's accent (the North of England can be tough on American ears), her physicality in the role is kind of incredible - she moves a bit, but it's mostly flopping around, feeling like a dead thing without rigor mortis-induced lurches that seem rather ridiculous after seeing this.

Cian Barry handles Rob's self-pity well, never making it obviously overwhelming enough for him to not be appealing. During the Q&A, Ben Blaine mentioned that part of Barry's job was to become "boring" as he healed, though that's fortunately a bit of an exaggeration; he's an appealing fellow, and Barry makes the process he goes through feel genuine without needing eureka moments. He also doesn't take the strangeness of his situation for granted, and he plays smaller scenes that could get overshadowed in something fantastical like this extremely well.

Abigail Hardingham is terrific as Holly. Her character is easy to extrapolate from her hypothetical answer to what she does for a living - check-out girl in a supermarket while studying to be an EMT says working to get by, helpful, not pushed away by trauma. Hardingham always seems to keep those things in mind alongside Holly's youth, and it makes her feel genuine even if she doesn't have the reaction to corpses materializing in her bed that you might imagine. She does a great job of handling how, though she looks quite at home in tight, heart-covered sweaters, she's pretty dark inside despite also having a core that, in most things, is looking for a way to make things better.

[I[Nina Forever will probably be pushed as a horror movie in a lot of places - heck, the image I'm seen used to promote it most makes it look like a pretty trashy horror movie - and while there is certainly a certain amount of unearthly tension to it, there's never much threat of this going beyond this tiny group. Instead, the Blaines use these tropes to make the audience face uncomfortable situations, and make fine use of their setting, using the small town to keep things grounded, along with the constant haze that the characters walk through the early going.

That makes for a smart, well-constructed ghost story. It's got a few rough patches, for certain, but it's thoughtful and sincere enough to be one of the more interesting entries in the genre in quite some time.

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originally posted: 09/12/15 13:28:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Bruce Campbellā€™s Horror Film Festival For more in the 2015 Bruce Campbellā€™s Horror Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

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