Fiona O’Shaughnessy in Nina Forever (Epic Pictures)

Fiona O’Shaughnessy in Nina Forever (Epic Pictures)

Before I settled down in my seat to watch the new horror/comedy Nina Forever, my friend and I were discussing a particular film that I liked and he didn’t. He did admire its audacity, though. He said it was a film you had to go “all in for.”

Fortuitously, Nina Forever is an absolutely “all in” movie. It has a bleak Ken Loachian feel to it, set in an England full of drab, blocky row houses and low-rent condos where sound consistently bleeds through the walls and characters seem trapped in their circumstances and environment. Cross that with a dash of Hellraiser, a bit of Re-Animator, and a strong understanding of the nature of grief and recovery and you have a very, very different type of horror film.

Holly is a checkout girl at a local grocery studying to be a paramedic. Her boyfriend breaks up with her because he feels she’s too vanilla, which infuriates her, but at her job, there is a boy, Rob, who lost his girlfriend in a car accident and has been attempting suicide (badly) ever since. This intrigues her. When he cuts himself at work, she puts her paramedic skills and feminine wiles to the test. Recovered, he asks her out, and the date goes well enough that they end up at his place and in his bed. But as they work their way towards climax, who should rise up from the bed but Rob’s bloodied, bruised, naked, and very, very dead girlfriend, Nina.

Now, here the film could branch off into many directions. You can do early Peter Jackson and present a ridiculous gore fest, you can go the aforementioned Hellraiser route and make a bloody, kinky film, or just make a silly Tim Burton goth-lite comedy, but the directors (brothers Ben and Chris Blaine) stay true to the emotional life of the characters. Nina Forever is, at heart, a film about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

That’s not to say the filmmakers don’t have fun with the premise. Nina is none too happy to be resurrected and certainly not willing to let her man go, but she occasionally participates in any carnal activity that is taking place. She comes well equipped with a deadpan (pun intended) and macabre sense of humor, as is only appropriate. But underneath the blood and gore is a serious examination of how loss affects everyone around them and how even the memory of a loved one, if not properly grieved, can spoil a person’s life.

To Nina’s dismay, Holly is not someone who scares or backs down easily, so Nina ups her game. Rob, to his credit, tries to move on, but he still visits Nina’s parents once a week for dinner. Holly is his second chance at love, but it’s tough when the memory of your dead girlfriend is anthropomorphized as your actual dead girlfriend.

Tonally, the film seesaws from genuine horror to comedy to kitchen sink drama, but it’s always grounded by the honest and earnest performances. Abigail Hardingham is a revelation as Holly, a smart, determined young woman searching for purpose. Cian Barry, as Rob, exudes a sweet soulfulness and handles the sometimes subtle humor with aplomb, and Fiona O’Shaughnessy, in the title role, is a physical marvel, all bloodied and limbs akimbo, though one-dimensional (no emotional development for the dead).

So, if you’re looking for an offbeat film and can handle some pretty disturbing situations and images, and a dash of pretty steamy undead sex to boot, Nina Forever may be your cup of tea. It was certainly mine.

Edited, Written, and Directed by Chris Blaine and Ben Blaine
Produced by Cassandra Sigsgaard
Released by Epic Pictures
UK. 98 min. Rated R
With Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, and Fiona O’Shaughnessy