‘Nina Forever’ Review: Morbidly Funny Love

'Nina Forever'

Movie Rating:


Love is many things and not always pleasant. Despite what the greeting card industry suggests, even the best of times often come with a certain overwhelming sense of queasy anxiety. That’s the side of love explored in the delightfully morbid debut from British filmmakers Ben and Chris Blaine. The deeply bizarre ‘Nina Forever’ almost feels like what might happen if Mike Leigh suddenly decided to adapt a story by Clive Barker.

Abigail Hardingham stars as Holly, a gloomy young woman working at a supermarket while studying to be a paramedic. She finds herself drawn to her even more depressed co-worker Rob (Cian Barry) when she learns that he tried to kill himself after the death of his ex, Nina. Rob’s been in melancholy stasis since then, abandoning his academic career and continuing to spend too much time with his departed’s parents. However, the resilient Holly is determined to bring Rob out of his shell. A relationship gradually builds and when they finally get down to do the devil’s business, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) emerges from the bed covered in blood and the wounds that killed her. She’s pulled from the afterlife to haunt Rob for his stabs at intimacy with another woman. It happens every time they make love, and soon they turn into a strange trio. Holly oddly seems to enjoy the situation, or at least the challenge. Things only get weirder from there.

‘Nina Forever’ is not strictly a horror movie in the traditional sense, but given the subject matter it’s hard to assign any other genre. The movie doesn’t really have scares, per se, but the film is rather disturbing and its supernatural element is played as metaphor in the way the best horror movies tend to do. For the Blaine brothers, this isn’t some zombie or ghost story, but a movie about grief and the weird ways it haunts us and even oddly attracts us. The filmmakers play with complex ideas and emotions, butt thoroughly identifiable ones. The genre angle is just a way of making those somewhat abstract concerns visceral. The directors don’t merely express their ideas through creepy atmosphere either. As their strange story marches on, the film also develops a decidedly twisted sense of humor with laughs that sting, and the characters (even Nina) expand beyond what they initially seem to be into more damaged and fascinating souls.

The performances are also excellent. As imaginative as the story might be, the film was clearly produced on a low budget with few locations and not many effects. It’s ultimately a story about people and the Blaines delivered some great ones brought to life by wonderful actors who never cease to find the small and human core of the most outlandish scenes. The most impressive work comes from the two women in the central trio.

Making her big screen debut, Abigail Hardingham proves to be a remarkable find. She has a tough role, playing the protagonist in nearly every frame, yet also a somewhat mysterious character whose true motivations aren’t revealed until the final moments. She displays a devilish morbid wit and also a secret tragedy always bubbling beneath the surface. Hardingham grounds the film beautifully. Even better might be Fiona O’Shaughnessy, whose haunting and otherworldly creation casts a creepy and intoxicating spell over viewers. She creates a unique character, caught somewhere between worlds who’s impossible to tear your eyes from. Given the opportunity, O’Shaughnessy could easily become a cult star.

As intriguing and fresh as ‘Nina Forever’ will feel to the right brand of filmgoer, it’s certainly not for everyone. Those expecting straight genre thrills may be put off by the Blaines’ more complicated aims, while those more suited to darkly comedic relationship dramas will be distressed by the splattering of blood. It takes a certain type of person to appreciate all the strange paths the Blaines follow and all the ambiguities they tease without ever spoon-feeding meanings. Still, it’s that type of convention-busting, genre-bending, and mind-fucking that cult films spring from. ‘Nina Forever’ feels like the sort of movie destined to be passed between like-minded weirdoes as its reputation grows overtime. The Blaine brothers have a filmmaking sensibility that is distinctly their own and there’s certainly no other movie quite like ‘Nina Forever’, even if its premise has been kicking around at least since ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’. Hopefully it won’t be long before they cast their spell again.

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