Romance and horror have gone hand-in-hand since the early days of both genres: what could be more terrifying than falling in love with a monster — or seeing a monster emerge from the person you love? Rose: A Love Story begins innocuously enough, but the hints are there; Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle) base their life out of a secluded woodland cabin. Sam patrols daily with his rifle, looking for rabbits for their dinners in his multiple traps. It might not be normal, but retiring to the woods and eking out a life away from capitalism reads easily as an escapist fantasy, especially when watching Rose prepare her espressos and types away on her typewriter. What writer does not aim for self-sufficiency and inspiration in isolation?
The hints become hard to ignore when they are not as easily explained. Rose slices her finger when carving up a rabbit, and every capillary becomes an angry purple. Rose and Sam seem happy enough getting dressed up for a date night, though they see barely anyone but each other — but Rose refuses to have sex unless the lights are off. Leeches are regularly pulled out of jars and applied to both parties. They bicker, strange noises are heard in the dark, and Rose points out in despair that ‘it’s not what I signed up for, it’s certainly not what you signed up for’, but what this is only becomes apparent after a trap catches Amber (Olive Gray), a young runaway. When everyone has their reasons for being in these dark woods — but also, crucially, their reasons for not wanting anyone else around to witness — the stakes explode.
Rose: A Love Story centres around the unspeakable dilemmas that arise when the person you love is becoming someone — or something — new. The monstrous in Rose is not given a name, though it takes on characteristics of common folk horror creatures; this lack of specificity allows the focus to stay on the all-too-human love story at the film’s centre. In many ways, this condition becomes analogous to a less supernatural illness, and the choices Sam and Rose make to maximise their time together focus on practical mitigation steps rather than searching for the otherworldly cause. In today’s world, where political and health factors beyond immediate control cause unending anxieties, mitigating this curse/infection and living out what life they can while they have the means feels the most sensible decision.
Despite its circumstantial resonance and thematic richness, the film is let down by pacing and characterisation. Even though Rose, Sam, and Amber are the three characters of note, their characterisations separate from their immediate situation and unspoken traumas are scant. This only proves a detriment when the film, like many monster movies, plays its hand too early. When the monster’s rules are known before the depth of the central couple’s devotion to each other, the rest of the short film becomes a slight let-down, culminating in a bloody showdown that ends the only way it can.
Rose: A Love Story screened as part of the virtual edition of BFI London Film Festival from 13th to 16th October
by Carmen Paddock
Carmen is an American living in Scotland. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School, and while now working in technology she keeps her love of film alive through overenthusiastic writing and an unhealthy amount of time spent at the cinema. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ever After, and Thor: Ragnarok. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie