Early on in Claire Oakley's haunting debut Make Up, Ruth (Molly Windsor) arrives at a seaside holiday resort in Cornwall to be with her boyfriend Tom (Josephy Quinn). They are getting her settled when she hears the sound of foxes screaming outside. Tom explains they aren't screaming but that it is the sound of cubs leaving their mothers. They are growing up and it is clear Ruth has just left her parents and is about to start growing up. We learn early on that Ruth cannot swim and yet she often wanders into the sea, a symbol for the unknown life she is moving towards. A life she fears but also wants to experience.
Ruth spends most of her first days there sleeping with her Tom. Sex is a big part of Make Up. Ruth finds the hairs of another woman in Tom's sheets. The bright red hairs begin an obsession for Ruth to find who this temptress is. Ruth's obsession leads her to Jade (Stefanie Martini). Jade is older and more worldly and the two connect quickly. While washing in the communal showers, Ruth hears moaning in an adjacent shower stall. This seems to awaken a new feeling in her, one she tries to suppress but keeps bubbling up in some visually stunning dream sequences.
Make Up isn't the tale of infidelity it first appears to be. Instead, this is a story of that awakening. Oakley's assured direction mixes in horror elements not far off from someone like David Lynch. She creates striking images that become symbols of Ruth's growth. There is also a specter-like quality to the location that seems to become stronger as Ruth's sexual awakening commences.
With its powerful imagery and strong performances, Make Up is a promising debut that mixes dreamscapes with a sincere coming of age story that is not often told. Oakley is a fresh talent whose influences are sometimes felt but who also is capable of fresh ideas and striking symbolic images.