Written and directed by Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine
The Marquis de Sade wrote, “There is no better way to know death than to link it with some licentious image”. Georges Bataille latched onto this idea, arguing that without death there is no desire. Factors of procreation and beauty play a role in sex, but true desire is rooted in our mortality: we want to fuck because we know we will die. The link between death and desire is at the heart of the Blaine brothers’ debut feature, Nina Forever. After the death of his girlfriend and a failed suicide attempt, Rob (Cian Barry) starts a relationship with his young co-worker, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). But every time they have sex his dead girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), appears mangled and bloodied in their bed.
At the heart of absurdity is fear. Great horror is often intensely absurd, borrowing as much from comedy as it does from the macabre. Nina Forever faces death and it cuts back with a sarcastic remark. The careful balance of the tone never undermines the weight of grief, but it puts it in a wider perspective. Death is inevitable but we treat it as a great injustice. We talk about fairness in conversations about death, as if some lives are more valuable than others, or that death is avoidable through good living. The absurdity surrounding death is the greatest comedy and the greatest tragedy of our existence.
Throw in a dash of sex, and you have something radical. Nina Forever is not the first film to tie sex to death, but the Blaine brothers make the idea fresh. The sex scenes are passionate, dripping with play and hunger. Intercut with the soft pools of blood slowly rising in the sheets, and Nina’s twisted body, you have a loaded image of conflicting desires. Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Nina is incisive and insistent. She has a Betty Boop face that frames her biting comments and sly jokes about her boyfriend (they never broke up after all, and since she’s dead they never can) with an air of innocence and seductiveness.
Her ever increasing presence in the lives of the new couple is accompanied by huge pools of blood that need to be cleaned long after she has faded. This repeated motif of cleaning up the lingering crime scene is at first treated with comedy, but becomes increasingly frustrated and laboured. This follows the film’s trajectory, which is at first imbued with the excitement of discovery and recovery, but the weight of Nina’s presence becomes increasingly difficult to ignore.
More than Rob’s or Nina’s story though, the film is about Holly. Holly likes to feel alive by cuddling up to death. Her evolution and growth is pained, as she is faced with her own misconceptions about relationships. She wants to be the “cool girl” ready to try anything to win the heart and affection of her object of desire, but she can’t sustain that act. She is not only living in the shadow of Nina, but of her own preconceptions about how the world works.
Nina Forever’s bluntness is its greatest asset. The obviousness of the narrative allows nuance to be explored through performance and detailing. The trajectory may be obvious, but the particularities set it apart. The tonal shift, in particular, is devastating, as the film’s dark comedy slowly evolves into a searing portrait of a doomed relationship.
— Justine Smith