LFF 2020 – ‘Rose: A Love Story’ Struggles to Tell a Story

The title of Rose: A Love Story wants you to know how subversive it’s being by really being “A Love Story” when it looks like a survivalist genre flick, featuring a deadly virus, post-apocalypse level isolation and moments of vampiric horror. Rose, unfortunately, fails to present any evidence of subversive or intelligent storytelling, and is dragged down by a flimsy script and tedious pacing. Married couple Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle) seclude themselves in the middle of a snowy forest, barely touched by civilisation while Sam tries to find a cure to the mysterious and malignant illness afflicting his wife. But soon (halfway through the film) they find an outsider in need of help who threatens to unsettle the tranquility they’ve built for themselves.

It’s impossible to get through Rose without noticing the weaknesses in the screenplay. The script was penned by lead actor Stokoe, and with a performance as lackluster as he gives, you’re left wishing he had just stuck to one responsibility. Even though the film is named after his wife, it’s Sam who takes centrestage, relegating Rundle’s superior performance mainly to the background. 

It’s clear Stokoe wanted to write a role that he thought himself was cool, but unfortunately this is in service of penning an engaging character. Sam’s characteristics are wildly contradictory – he’s both zealously protective and badass, as seen when he hunts down someone who stole from him and beats him unconscious, but he’s also heroic and compassionate, letting in the stranger Amber (Olive Gray) when she’s found injured in the woods. Stokoe has seemed to not make his mind up about whether Sam is willing to sacrifice everything to protect the woman he loves, or whether he’s a bit more relaxed about trusting complete strangers in critical situations.

Pointing out logical inconsistencies in a film is usually a sign of bad faith criticism, but Rose suffers from the fact that Sam and Rose are bad at being survivalists. It’s of course necessary for slip-ups in their behaviour to happen, because in every survival movie the status quo needs to be broken for drama to happen, but a few times you’ll find yourself wondering why Sam and Rose choose to put themselves in danger with little thought about the consequences. Their money being stolen, for instance, would be a lot more compelling if Sam hadn’t been the person to willingly hand over the money himself. 

The most damning flaw is how all the conflict is explained rather than dramatized, meaning it’s difficult to get engaged in the story. When Rose criticises Sam’s violence against the thief, he responds with, “I can’t let someone just take advantage of me, it’s not in my nature.” Why we’re being told a fundamental aspect of his character, and not shown it, we never find out. Rose already has a slow pace, but it’s over-reliance on dialogue to flesh out the story means it often halts right in its tracks, and stops the audience from becoming emotionally attached to the characters. It tries to work in some weighty themes and horror thrills, but ultimately Rose’s failure is down to its mishandling of basic rules of storytelling.

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