Friday, February 19, 2016

Women in Horror: Nina Forever

* spoilers *

Rob suffers a car accident, loses the love of his life Nina, and then tries to kill himself. He now works in a supermarket and meets Holly who is completely enamored with him. They get to know each other and go on a date, which goes well. They fall into bed together only to have undead Nina join them in their bed. The living couple is understandably shocked and disgusted since she covers everything in a layer of blood from her wounds. Nina returns every time they are intimate. What should they do? How can they make her stay dead?

Nina Forever is a sexier, funnier, more poignant version of Burying the Ex and Life After Beth. Of course there are some differences, but the main story is the same: the previous or dead girlfriend of the main character serves as a wedge in the new romance that the couple must overcome in some way order to be happy. The other films were pretty predictable and a little goofy in their humor, which made the feelings involved less defined and effective. Nina Forever has a more emotional story and more realistic and flawed characters. The exposition is streamlined into about 10 minutes so the bulk of the film builds up Rob and Holly's relationship and throws them in conflict with Nina. All of the information is still conveyed, but it's done in such a condensed way that feels like it's longer. The accident is a sparse, silent scene with a body on the ground in the aftermath with the wrecked car in the background. Rob's situation is illustrated in a gossipy conversation between Holly and her awful, judgmental coworkers.

Rob looks like he needs a hug. His melancholy air is understandable since he lost the love of his life quite recently, but it seems to repel other people. He's still trying to physically and mentally recover from the accident and its aftereffects. There's not much of his character because he is kind of stuck in time, not being able to get past Nina's death. Holly is quite the opposite. She's 19 years old and just getting started with her adult life, away from home for the first time at college to eventually be a paramedic. She finds Rob's state attractive. To her, it means that he loved intensely to attempt suicide. She fantasizes about what that intensity would be like in bed. Although kind of insensitive and fetishistic, it leads them into a sweet romance and eventually into a relationship. Before their relationship, Holly was dumped by a man who said she was too nice, sweet, and vanilla. Then her co-workers judge her as being weird and morbid. At this point, she's still trying to define herself and find herself underneath all these judgments from others.

Enter Nina, a beautiful woman in Rob and Holly's bed whenever they have sex. Frozen in time, she appears as she did when Rob last saw her: nude and with all the lacerations and broken bones from the accident. Her makeup is always smeared and tearstained; she always appears the same. Because of her broken bones, she can't really hold herself up, giving her a boneless, lifeless quality to set her apart (in addition to the still bleeding wounds) from the living nude people in their bed. She isn't happy to be there or see her beloved boyfriend try to move one. While she insists she wants nothing, it's clear that she's jealous of Holly and her vitality, taking every opportunity to sarcastically insult her, cut her down, and undermine her relationship with Rob. Nina is bitter, cold, and cutting, thinking of anything horrible to say to interrupt their relationship. It's unclear, but I assume she's very unlike Nina in life because she's the bitter representation of everything Rob missed out on due to her death. I can't hate Nina because I feel so sorry for her. She has to see them happy and full of life while she has no life, no motivation, no reason for even being there. Her commentary is also quite funny and sometimes shocking in its edge.

To Rob, Nina is his inability to let go of the past. Many of the things she sardonically says is true: she and Rob never broke up; he still loves her; he can't break up with her now; and he will never be able to say goodbye. All of these things will stay with Rob forever. They may fade, but it was a traumatic, scarring experience to witness his girlfriend dying and living forever without her. To Holly, Nina is her jealousy and everyone's opinions about her. Although Nina is largely why Holly was first attracted to Rob, she resents Nina's presence. At first, she tried to include Nina in their lovemaking and even got Nina Forever tattooed on her to show that she will forever be remembered. Nina isn't there for herself, so none of that mattered. She's dead. She doesn't care about being remembered and she can't feel anything except the shard of glass in the back of her throat. Nina's attempt at coping with this is reflected in the scene where she helps Rob carry the sheets bloodied by Nina to the dumpster. She helps him bear the load of his grief. After a while, the constant sarcastic insults and blood everywhere starts to get to Holly. She tries to remove every bit of Nina from their now shared apartment and their lives. Despite her best efforts, all anyone who knew Nina can ever see is Nina's absence when they see Holly and Rob together. This is shown quite awkwardly in the scene where Rob takes Holly to meet Nina's parents. On what planet is that a good idea? It was incredibly unpleasant, awkward, and horrible for everyone. Holly can truly never escape Nina when she's with Rob. She will always be reminded of how she's trying to fit herself into the space Nina left and she doesn't quite fit in.

After a while, Holly starts to see Nina when she's by herself because Nina is no longer there for Rob. Rob has used this experience to realize the truths Nina represents and be able to move on. He even sees how constantly visiting her parents may not be the best or healthiest thing for all involved. Holly becomes so consumed by her feelings of inadequacy and her drive to eradicate Nina that she causes Nina to be even more present around her. In one of the final scenes, Nina dates someone else and has sex with them in her old dorm while Nina appears beneath her and watches silently. It's a weird scene, but it shows how Holly is overcompensating to prove to everyone that she's just as good as Nina or is over Rob or whatever else she wants to prove. The fact is that she can no longer enjoy whatever she does because all everyone sees is the absence of Nina, physically represented by dead Nina. The final scene has Rob coming over to try to make up with Holly, but he sees her bloodstained sheets (signs that Nina has been there) and realizes that it just won't work. The ending is the complete opposite of the other predictable films. It's stark in its realism and its sadness.

Nina Forever is a dark film because of the way the accident is handled. Rob and Nina were supposed to be together forever and now they can't. It's tragic and moving on isn't easy. The humor in the film doesn't lighten the mood enough to dispel the tragedy. It's always there whether Nina is onscreen or not, felt by each character. Although much of the film has the characters mostly nude, it doesn't feel exploitative or sleazy in any way. It shows the vulnerability and the reality of a new relationship. Although on the surface Nina Forever can be seen as two women fighting over a man, it isn't at its core. It's really so much more than that and that's why Nina Forever is infinitely better than Life After Beth and Burying the Ex. Both take the tragedy out of the deaths and devolve into having one man pick between two women or have the two women vying for one man's attention. Fiona O'Shaughnessy flawlessly and believably plays the sarcastic yet ethereal Nina. Abigail Hardingham portrays the young and eager to prove herself Holly. Both characters are incredibly fleshed out and realistic which makes their conflict so much more complicated. Nina Forever shines as the best of its genre. It's only flaw is a bit of pacing issues, but it's a formidable debut film. I look forward to seeing more from all involved.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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