Cornwall has seldom seemed eerier than in Make Up, the vivid first feature from director Claire Oakley. A coming-of-age tale of sexual awakening that borrows conventions from the psychological thriller, Make Up follows 18-year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor) as she joins her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn) to work the offseason at a seaside holiday camp. Perched ominously amongst autumnal mist, the holiday chalets are placed above sand dunes overlooking the sea. The only people left on site are a few residents and a small staff of teenage workers responsible for maintenance and cleaning.
Oakley conjures an uneasy atmosphere as Ruth begins to find mysterious red hairs on her boyfriend’s clothes, and catches only snapped glimpses of the girl they might belong to. The couple have been together for three years, but there are signs of drift. Ruth finds herself lured towards Jade (Stefanie Martini), another worker on the site. While Tom supplies spaghetti sandwiches, Jade provides more sensual opportunities as she invites Ruth to smoke, drink and dance.
It is a curious, quietly economical film. Oakley blurs the edges of reality as Ruth experiences what could be lesbian visions, flashbacks or even premonitions — it’s all left unclear. These start off as almost violent intrusions, however by the films close, they have given way to literal fireworks. Make Up isn’t your typical tale of queer awakening, but it unfurls into something that, for a few momements at least, is genuinely mesmeric.