Programme Notes: Make Up


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Spoiler warning: these notes are best read after watching the film. They contain detail of characters and plot.

Like a school after dark or a theme park after opening hours, an off-season caravan park is a ghost town. A heavy absence haunts this liminal space and in Make Up, Claire Oakley’s directorial debut, it makes for the perfect setting for an atmospheric, queer coming-of-age ghost story.

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One night, 18-year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor) turns up to a deserted caravan park in St Ives, Cornwall. It’s the dead of winter and only a skeleton crew remains to watch over the empty caravans until next year’s holiday season. Ruth is from Derby and has come to the park to be with her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn), one of the park’s few workers. Marked by her accent, Ruth is an outsider and spends most of her time alone, working as a cleaner. Told by the park’s matriarch, Shirley (Lisa Palfrey), that Tom’s caravan previously homed a couple and baby, Ruth’s path towards becoming a homemaker seems clear. 

Living without her parents for the first time and teetering on the cusp of adulthood, Ruth plays dress up with womanhood, helped by a kind colleague, Jade (Stefanie Martini). Red acrylic nails, wigs and a fur coat give Ruth artificial bravado but aren’t quite right. 'I look like a stupid kid playing dress-up when I put make up on,' she says. The film’s title nods to Ruth’s construction and deconstruction of femininity as she attempts to figure out her identity with make-up. Soon greasy lipstick marks and long red hairs begin appearing in Tom’s caravan and Ruth’s imagination runs wild that Tom is having an affair. But these disembodied clues begin appearing in supposedly empty caravans, haunting Ruth like a spectre of her own pyschosexuality. Outside the colourful refuge of Jade’s caravan, horror saturates everything, even innocuous mirrors and door handles look like they might bite. Sex literally surrounds the park as the shrieks of mating foxes pierce through the night.

Plastic also surrounds the park, literally covering the caravans as they’re fumigated and wrapped up for the winter, and Ania Przygoda’s eerie sound design makes effective use of the crinkling of plastic sheets. Oakley was inspired by Maria Lassnig Self-Portrait Under Plastic for this clinical and claustrophobic production design: 'She has a plastic bag over her head, trying to breathe through this plastic. It felt really expressive of a certain kind of suffocated femininity, and someone trying to express themselves but not being able to. I was really struck by it.' Stretching out beside the suffocating caravan park is the unending sea but Ruth can’t swim. The water is out of her depth, dangerous and desirable as well as 'a great healer,' according to Shirley. The park’s rich psychogeography traps Ruth, laying out her options as a young woman: to stay smothered under wraps or swim out and into murky waters.  

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Make Up’s watery symbolism comes to a head in the park’s shower room. After a near fatal swim in the sea, Ruth washes in the communal showers. A stranger’s moaning begins in an adjacent cubicle and as she realises she’s not alone, repressed desires are awakened in Ruth. Like the sea, the shower room becomes a repellent yet irresistible space for Ruth, a private booth away from the claustrophobic, plastic-covered caravans where her urges can be met.

When Ruth finally comes out to Tom, after being outed by his colleague who spots her and Jade together, the park’s phantom seductress disappears and the film’s body horror morphs into a cathartic coming-of-age story. In the film’s final sequence, a naked Ruth takes the plunge into the now calm sea, washing away the make-up and sweat from the night before. The sea holds her, heals her and, finally, let’s her go. With its grounded naturalism and thrillingly uncanny atmosphere Make Up is a rich and rewarding haunting. It also marks Oakley as an exciting, new filmmaking talent.  

Katie Goh
Culture Writer

If you have watched Make Up and want to share your thoughts on the film, we would love to hear from you. Tweet @glasgowfilm or email feedback@glasgowfilm.org and tell us what you thought.


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