Caravan parks always make for a particularly bleak, particularly British setting. In Claire Oakley’s mysterious Make Up, the uniform white boxes stand starkly against the backdrop of grassy mounds and burning sunsets. They resemble rows of dominoes, ready to topple each other when pushed, just as protagonist Ruth’s (Molly Windsor) sense of reality is knocked out of alignment as soon as she moves in to long-term boyfriend Tom’s (Joseph Quinn) cramped Cornish holiday home. 

When Ruth finds a long, orange hair in Tom’s clothes that couldn’t be further from her own mousy brown locks, she suspects he has been unfaithful. The mirage of this red-haired girl starts to haunt her; the masterful editing provides teasing glimpses of her around every corner, and the use of silence and swelling sound design add an unbearable tension at times. For a film that is often hard to define, horror becomes the closest genre touchpoint. 

The small cast is engaging throughout, and Molly Windsor is clearly a star on the rise. Oakley really does a lot with a little; her slow, patient camera, oddball peripheral characters, and the omission of any real context to Ruth ending up at the park are unnerving from the start, with everything feeling just a little off-kilter. But as Make Up moves into its third act, it’s the audience that is left unsteady. Contrary to what the thriller-ish setup would suggest, the film develops into an unexpected meditation on identity and awakening, delivered through a gloriously bold and bright beach sequence and a stellar final shot. 

Any uneven moments in Claire Oakley’s remarkably accomplished debut only serve to amplify the ever-morphing nature of this story and its characters. Make Up is a lean, sensory, genre-defying delight, and a welcome deep dive into the painted face of the teenage female psyche. 


Available to watch: in theatres and on Curzon Home Cinema 


CAST: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stefanie Martini

DIRECTOR: Claire Oakley

WRITER: Claire Oakley

SYNOPSIS: Ruth moves to a Cornwall caravan park to be with her boyfriend, and develops a strange obsession with a red-haired girl that she thinks he might be cheating on her with.