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DEATH BECOMES HER: Relationships with the living and dead thrill in ‘Nina Forever’

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The greatest lesson filmmakers could take from “Nina Forever” is how important it is to respect the premise.

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Nothing sabotages a relationship like a clingy ex. It starts off with everything clicking, but then the memory of a past relationship ends up sabotaging what could have been a meaningful, long-term commitment. This is the main dilemma in “Nina Forever”: being haunted by an ex-girlfriend. It also doesn’t help if the ex-girlfriend is dead.

FOREVER-N-EVER: ‘Nina Forever’ is genuinely freaky in all the right ways. Screening at the Cucalorus Film Festival on Nov. 11. Courtesy photo.

FOREVER-N-EVER: ‘Nina Forever’ is genuinely freaky in all the right ways. Screening at the Cucalorus Film Festival on Nov. 11. Courtesy photo.

Rob (Cian Barry) loses Nina, the love of his life, in a car accident. He becomes despondent and tries to take his own life in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. He tries to piece his life back together, but it’s difficult for him to move on. He still mills about with his dead girlfriend’s family, feeling some kind of obligation to them.

Holly (Abigail Hardingham) works with Rob at the local market and becomes fixated with him. It makes sense; she’s obsessed with morbidity and he’s a living, breathing open wound. Work flirtation transitions into casual dating, and before too long, these young, sexy people are doing what young sexy people do: baw chicka wah wah.

Once things turn sexual, the relationship takes on otherworldly complications. Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), Rob’s dead ex, shows up in bed—a pale, rotting corpse covered in blood. This is normally where a scary movie turns into a violent bloodbath, but “Nina Forever” isn’t that kind of movie. Nina doesn’t murder Holly or Rob; instead, she belittles Rob on his latest sexual conquest, sarcastically tearing Holly down like a scorned lover, looking to make some emotional scars. The scene where Nina shows up is genuinely freaky, and not just because of the blood and festering wounds. Nina’s presence is so surreal that neither Rob nor Holly know exactly how to process the strange occurrence.

Although it causes some friction at first, Holly decides to embrace the strange entanglement and take Nina head on. This leads to some awkward moments of sexual tension between the three of them. Nina continues to appear whenever they have sex, so Holly decides that she should become part of their lovemaking.

Outside of bed, Rob and Holly begin to find some level of relationship normalcy.  Though it’s far from perfect, they both make every effort to work around Rob’s rotting ex-lover. Sometimes it means switching from white sheets to red to hide the blood stains, or becoming extra vigilant with the Pine Sol, as Holly tries to scrub every last remnant of Nina away from Rob’s life.

The brilliance of “Nina Forever” is never allowing the premise to devolve into outright camp. Nina is never played for cheap laughs; she is very real and very sickening. There is a lot of dark comedy at work in the movie, but directors Chris and Ben Blaine never go for easy jokes. At its core, “Nina Forever” is a relationship film with some really well-developed characters. For a movie with an extremely jarring plot point, there’s more raw, honest drama in it than many movies that try and tackle the same topic without the benefit of an oozing, mean spirited metaphor.

The greatest lesson filmmakers could take from “Nina Forever” is how important it is to respect the premise. On paper, this is a movie that seems ripe for parody, but the whole thing is played with deadly seriousness, which in turn makes it that much more effective. “Nina Forever” is an excellent film: top-notch storytelling with earnest performances. Kudos to the cast who manage to make the whole bloody affair so engaging.

Nina Forever
Three and a half out of five stars
Starring: Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry
Directed by: Chris and Ben Blaine
Wed., Nov. 11, 9:30 p.m.
CFCC Union Station • $10 •

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