Nina Forever, the debut film by Ben and Chris Blaine, may be draped in the ghostly bloodstained sheets of a horror-comedy, but it refuses to play by the conventions of the genre. Underneath its off-beat exterior, is a searing and painfully honest portrait of the emotional baggage that often burdens relationships. In the bold hands of the Blaine Brothers, the sight of decayed lesions in Nina’s flesh is not as chilling as what she represents. Nina is not so much a boogyman as she is a prisoner. A physical manifestation of the protagonists’- and the viewer’s for that matter – inability to let go of the past.
In Nina Forever, it is memory, and the emotional and physical scars associated with it, that is the greatest curse of all.
The bulk of the film focuses on the budding relationship between Holly (Abigail Hardingham) and Rob (Cian Barry). Holly is a nineteen-year-old studying to become a paramedic. Working as a cashier at a grocery store, she carries a deep crush for the older and emotionally crippled co-worker Rob. Still grieving from the death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), who died as a result of a car accident, and coming off his own failed suicide attempt, Rob finds it hard to move past the deep void he feels. Convinced that she can fix his broken heart, Holly sets out to not only win Rob’s affections, but also prove she is much darker than her good girl image conveys.
As the pair grows closer it appears at first that Holly is indeed the medicine that Rob needs to move on with his life. Unfortunately, supernatural forces have other intentions for the couple. Their first night of intimacy is abruptly interrupted by none other than Nina, who literally crawls out of the mattress as the couple is making love. Back from the dead, though still technically dead, Nina refuses to accept the label of “ex-girlfriend.” After all, they never officially broke up. Unwilling to give up on a possible future together, Holly and Rob go to great lengths to cleanse Nina’s memory from their lives. They soon learn, however, that it is tougher to walk forward when the heavy anchor of the past refuses to loosen its grip.
Immersing the narrative within a bittersweet romance, while simultaneously constructing a methodically murky atmosphere, Nina Forever is a sight to behold. The rapturous complexities of various relationships in the film pour over the audience with the same fluidity as the emotions and memories it evokes within them. Whether focusing on the triangle that Holly, Rob and Nina find themselves in; the codependent nature of Rob’s interaction with Nina’s parents (David Troughton and Elizabeth Elvin), or the sad truth of Nina’s parent’s marriage; the Blaine Brothers effectively capture the obsessive and stifling nature the past can have on us. Similar to the tattoo on Rob’s back, the ghost of Nina remains imprinted on both those who knew her well and those, like Holly, who are now coming into contact with her.
The unconventional premise, further accentuated by several tonal shifts, succeeds due to the wonderful performances by the cast. Abigail Hardingham presents Holly as a woman so intent on “fixing” Rob, and proving a point to Nina, that she does not consider how her growing obsession with the situation might be impacting her on a personal level. Hardingham gives a star-making turn that is only rivalled by Fiona O’Shaughnessy brilliant work. Revelling in playing Nina, a woman who, while dead, still speaks her mind with venomous vigor, O’Shaughnessy is a frequent scene-stealer. Often playing the “Linda Lovace” to Holly’s “Florence Nightingale”, Nina is more than simply a woman scorned by the sight of her former love in the arms of another. O’Shaughnessy brings a surprising level of depth to the role. When Nina coldly tells Holly “I don’t want this,” the haunting realization sinks in that she is referring to more than the triangle she is in. She too is trapped within the curse of memory that plagues the characters in the film.
An audacious and remarkable debut, Nina Forever is a film that offers a fresh take on the baggage that we carry around with us, and the ways it begins to erode our relationships with others. It is one of the year’s best films, a hidden gem that should not be missed.