Nina Forever Dir. Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine

[Epic Pictures; 2016]

Styles: gothic rom-com
Others: Truly Madly Deeply, May

Sometimes people just linger in your heart. Well after the sell-by date on the relationship has passed, they remain there, lurking in your memories. There’s no real way to exorcise this particular demon, either. The harder you struggle to suppress the memory or move on, the more you realize you’re still under their control in some sense. Until one day, you’re simply over them, you’ve moved on and haven’t spent the day thinking of them or your time together. There appears to be little rhyme or reason to the relationship grieving process, no Kübler-Ross stages one has to get through in order to make it through to the other side. One day they are there, omnipresent, and the next they just aren’t. It’s a universal anguish that is prone to a potent metaphor, and luckily directors Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine have delivered well on that premise with their new film Nina Forever, turning that phantom love into a literal concept that stalks a new couple.

Holly (Abigail Hardingham) is a paramedic student that works part-time at a supermarket. There she meets and develops a crush on Rob (Cian Barry), a man who recently attempted suicide over the loss of his girlfriend, Nina, to a car accident. When Holly and Rob get together, it seems to be working great and they seem to perfectly match each other, until they have sex, which summons the bloodied ghost of Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) into their bedroom. Can the relationship survive this weird occurrence? How can they get rid of Nina from their lives so they can move on? And what is bringing her back?

Nina Forever is a bit of an on-the-nose metaphor for the sins of past relationships haunting current ones, but it works mainly due to outstanding performances by the three leads and top notch writing (also by Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine). Holly is a complicated character that is flawed and dark in a unique but relatable (and all too human) way. She’s determined to make this new relationship work and goes to great lengths to adapt to this ghastly status quo. She has needs and desires that are overshadowed by the lingering shadow of a former love, but isn’t simply a ray of sunshine and positivity that propels through the plot. This is a character of substance, well defined in the script and brought to excellent life by Hardingham. The other two principal actors also shine in their roles. Barry is great as the conflicted Rob, desperately wanting to move on but still caught in a paralysis from his own traumatic events, uncertain of how to proceed or what it is that he truly wants. O’Shaughnessy plays Nina perfectly, a sort of comic figure spouting unfortunate truths and unwilling to let go of her own life, it’s not clear exactly what brings about her ersatz resurrection and she seems as much a slave to the reality as an active participant in this overcrowded relationship. The three play off each other well, with alternating tenderness and harsh words as can be found in any complicated love triangle.

The premise is a bit one-note, and the metaphor a bit too obvious, but the filmmakers have wisely decided to make this more about the characters and their own internal struggles than about the supernatural plot elements. There’s a nice twist at the end that doesn’t come off like a cheat but instead informs everything that the viewer has seen previously, recasting the interactions and characters in a new light (as all good twists should do). The film isn’t as funny or fantastical as it could be, as there could be more comedy to mine from this macabre setup and its magical realist grounding. But again, the story is so familiar and lived-in that it’s not a major problem.

We don’t get to choose who haunts us or why. If people could control their feelings in such a way, it would make life easier, but not any richer. The pain must be endured before you finally emerge on the other side of it. Nina Forever perfectly encapsulates this experience by presenting it as a gothic romantic dramedy, with the ghosts made literal and the emotional scars made physical. Insightful writing and powerful performances make it a dark romance that is both otherworldly and eerily familiar, while expanding upon what would otherwise just be a clever premise.

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