You can just tell, even from its title, that Rose: A Love Story is nothing like your average horror film. Sure, it has some of the beloved genre’s tropes: a Last of Us-inflected aesthetic, the odd jumpscare and a leeching sense of foreboding the entire experience, but its strength is often in its subtlety, capitalising on the old mantra that you always fear what you can’t see.
More often than not, it does play as a straight love story – between Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle), a relationship that is initially unclear but is built into one based on dependence, love, but mostly fear. Stokoe’s script (both co-star and screenwriter) initially gives very little away regarding their secluded, almost Victorian lifestyle – Sam leaves their wooden cabin only to fetch food from traps and fuel from a contact of his – which creates a real sense of curiosity around Rose’s condition and the reason behind their isolation.
It’s all conveyed superbly through two brilliant lead performances. Rundle’s performance is often understated and could go unnoticed compared to Stokoe’s more brazen, extroverted Sam, but hers is a really subtle turn that conveys Rose’s turmoil – feeling guilty for keeping Sam around to look after her – yet the purity and sweetness behind her at most times shows some great range.
When things do go awry – under circumstances I won’t mention – she really turns on the horror, creating some intensely scary moments that completely shock you and go against the sweet lull that is the rest of the film. Stoke is of course also brilliant, particularly when partnered with the gruff, abrasive Amber (Olive Gray), unleashing an anger and frustration that stems from the fervent lengths he will go to protect Rose. In keeping the cast tight and concise, director Jennifer Sheridan really allows audiences to get to know these characters – meaning when the horror does inevitably arrive, it hits even harder.
Yet perhaps best of all is how Rose: A Love Story conveys the brutality of this semi-dystopian world so effectively. The violence is unflinching and brutal, even when conveyed subtly through the camerawork, and the precision with which Sheridan orchestrates the pace creates such a gripping atmosphere without a dull second. As mentioned, the tone can flip within a second to something completely horrific, and many films would struggle to pull this off, but Rose: A Love Story does it brilliantly.
It’s also a unique and thought-provoking comment on patriarchy and the antiquated expectation of men to be ‘providers’: Rose often tells Sam to leave her, but his refusal to do so, and the eventual consequences of this decision, leave plenty of room for thought as to whether these expectations are more damaging than already considered.
As a love story, Rose: A Love Story works impeccably. It’s a tale of unrelenting loyalty, dedication and sheer adoration, even in the face of impending doom. Yet it is also a brilliantly executed horror, with unflinching violence, a virulent sense of dread underpinning everything, and true and pure shocks. It’s a brilliant little film that takes horror in a subtle and refreshing direction.