Coming-of-age dramas rarely lack for moody characters, but in the British film “Make Up,” anxiety, doom and suspense seem to blanket the entire environment. It’s a slight film, not even 90 minutes, but the atmosphere is dense.
The story follows Ruth (Molly Windsor), a teenager who has come to join her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn), at his job in a caravan community by the seaside. In the cold, foggy dunes, the wind howls and foxes shriek, but Ruth and Tom seem immune to the gloom, cocooned as they are in each other’s arms. It’s only when Ruth finds strands of long red hair on Tom’s clothes that their bubble starts to burst.
Ruth’s suspicion spikes, and the landscape around her begins to appear malevolent, fated to swallow her up. Her one comfort comes in the company of a new co-worker, Jade (Stefanie Martini), a pretty girl with a bad reputation who beckons with the promise of ease and warmth.
The writer and director Claire Oakley demonstrates an admirable control of tone for her first feature film, giving her coming-of-age story the feel of a horror film. The sound design plays a huge part in maintaining the ominous overtones, with an ambient score that surges as Ruth’s anxiety mounts. Cool grays and blues blanch the palette, the performances are subdued and the camera watches the characters from afar, at a remove from Ruth’s overheated imagination.
The distance that Oakley maintains keeps the danger present. There is always a sense that there is room in the frame for a threat to materialize. It’s an intriguing interpretation of adolescent discovery, one that uses horror to suggest the dread that comes with finding a sense of self.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. In theaters and virtual cinemas. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.