Review: 'Nina Forever' [Fantasia Festival 2015]

It can be difficult to reconcile the way things were with the way things are, and when this kind of insecurity arises, whether stemming from a confrontation with our own past or that of someone close to us, it rarely just vanishes. Too often, it takes root, and by inches invades us. It changes our thinking, yes, but by extension it changes who we are. Likely not for the better.

For most, that’s probably the kind of heavy pondering material best left to those late nights that see your eyes fixed on the ceiling and your mind on the unforgiving intricacies of life. For Nina Forever, it’s the foundation for a black comedy about woman and a man who, whenever they have sex, find themselves haunted by his dead former girlfriend. Oh, and it’s worth noting that she is constantly bleeding out all over the sheets.

The premise is so absurd that it is a little shocking just how good the film is. It’s funny, yes – you can get a lot of mileage out of a love triangle between a suicidal man, his dead former girlfriend, and a younger woman who gets a thrill out of the whole thing – but to maintain the laughs and also force the audience to confront the central theme, to show them just how poisonous it can be to hold on to the dark influences from our past, is something pretty special, and it’s something this film manages with style.

The central darkness, of course, is Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy, the once dearly departed, and now unwanted return visitor. His love for her is what led Rob (Cian Barry) down into the spiral of depression that nearly claimed his life. Twistedly, it’s what draws Holly (Abigail Hardingham) to him, the rationale being that a relationship with someone possessing that kind of emotional intensity must be incredible.

For a time, Holly and Rob’s newfound romance flourishes. He finds in her the spark he needs to rekindle his life, and she finds in him just the sensitive, standup guy she figured him for. But then Nina shows up. And keeps showing up. They soon realize she isn’t something they can ignore, that she’s merely a symptom of an underlying problem that must be dealt with. Easier said than done.

The actors all do great work with their roles, bringing light to the meaning lurking under the surface silliness. O’Shaughnessy, of course, gets to have the most fun, twisting and contorting her way through her scenes as she snipes at the lovebirds Nina resents, all while coughing up and spurting out blood and leaving an enormous mess in her wake.

But Barry, with the quietest performance of the three, captures the confusion and pain of a man caught between wanting to let go and never being able to, and Hardingham the defiant optimism of one set on getting her way, and then the slow deflation that comes when it’s clear that this is no simple prospect.

The story, though it delves into decidedly ugly subject matter, is beautiful. It’s personal, yet universal. Fantastical, yet unflinchingly realistic in its exploration of human emotion and interaction. Brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, who served both as writers and directors of this film (their debut feature), managed to take a difficult subject, dress it up with ridiculous horror comedy, and create something truly resonant. This is a gem, plain and simple.