There’s a fresh, funny and genuinely weird London-set zombie film out this week and no, it’s not that Austen badaptation advertised everywhere. Nina Forever is the debut feature of writer-directors the Blaine Brothers, a magic realist tale that turns hackneyed zombie tropes inside out with a ménage à trois in which one of the people just happens to be (un)dead.
Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Utopia’s Jessica Hyde) is Nina, who's been killed in a car crash but now stubbornly refuses to leave her boyfriend Rob (Cian Barry) because they never actually broke up. He’s trying to move on with his life by dating emo student Holly (Abigail Hardingham), but every time they try to get intimate, blood blooms on the bedsheets and Nina appears. It’s a brilliantly-realised extended metaphor for grief made flesh, which steers the film away from mere gore towards something far more intellectually challenging. This zombie film actually has brains rather than just dangling them at the audience for shock value. It deservedly won best film at last year's Frightfest.
“We were worried that horror fans would be really sniffy about it,” says Ben Blaine. “But they’ve really taken to the fact that it’s playing with genre and not just doing a standard horror movie thing, that it has characters with emotional depth and different viewpoints.”
Ben starts eating what we can only describe as a mutant sausage roll at this point, so brother Chris takes over. “It’s a bit like Let The Right One In, which sounded like a horror film at first so attracted fans of the genre, but then word got out and people saw that it was something a bit different.”
Nina Forever is indeed disorienting, an unusual mix of comedy, horror and drama that examines the relationship between love, sex and death (as well as bloody beds, there’s some shagging in a cemetery too). Strange then, but a long way from schlock; it somehow has the distinct ring of truth about it.
Chris continues: “There was lots of bad stuff happening in our lives and we wanted to write about the grief we were going through. Nina came out in a quick splurge and we were writing expecting no-one would want us to make it. That really freed us up in terms of what we felt like we were allowed to write. We weren’t ever censoring ourselves thinking: they won’t like this or they won’t like that — whoever they are.”
Ben, who has digested his snack now (we are in a cafe just off Carnaby Street), explains a bit more: “There are things in the film that I know have very direct significance to us or certain members of the cast, but you won’t know which are real and which aren’t. We were thinking of both people we’ve lost who have died, but also people we’ve lost where a relationship has ended so you’re not allowed to talk to that person anymore. The joy of the film is that, with the actors, we could create this ball of reality and fantasy and emotion that then becomes its own truth that the audience can read into themselves.”
So is it tough as siblings to go to these dark, gooey places together? “It’s not comfortable,” says Ben with a grin. “But over the years of telling stories and making films together you get to learn that when it’s not comfortable that’s when you have to keep going because that’s when it’s interesting and that’s when you have something that everyone else might secretly relate to.”
The brothers grew up on the edge of the M25 near Potter’s Bar, and the film’s setting is a similar no-mans-land, though they actually shot it on the south side of London around Tolworth, Berrylands and Kingston. Ben describes it as “the empty suburban wastes of the commuter belt” and the way they photograph it in the film gives it the raw sense of poetry that phrase might suggest.
The setting is a smart visual representation for the mental state of the three main characters (all excellently played by the way): it's numb, sad and introspective. Ben says “It's a suburban story about those places at the edge. It isn’t wild but it has scrubby bits of wilderness and it isn’t urban but nevertheless it has a density to it. You can be simultaneously isolated and yet aware of all the people around you.”
They also filmed in a studio in Kennington frequented by Richard and Judy, which somehow feels apt also for this story of Londoners in limbo.
Next up, the Blaines will be branching out to the edge of Edinburgh, having just been asked to direct an original screenplay by Irvine Welsh called Keep The Faith. It’s a heist film about four women who try to knock off a casino in Leith which promises to be the exact opposite of the sleek and glossy Ocean’s Eleven films. No doubt there will be blood…
Nina Forever will be available on demand on 15 February and on DVD and Blu-ray from 22 February. You can also catch it in London on limited release from this week:
- Art House Cinemas (Crouch End) — Friday 12 February, 10.45pm
- Hackney Picturehouse — Monday 15 February, 6pm
- Ritzy Cinema (Brixton) — Friday 19 February, 10.30pm
- The Gate, Notting Hill — Monday 29 February, 9pm