Review: NINA FOREVER, Blood and Sex, Dark But Droll

Cian Barry, Abigail Hardingham, and Mandeep Dhillon star in the horror comedy-drama, directed by Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine, now streaming on Shudder.

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Review: NINA FOREVER, Blood and Sex, Dark But Droll

I had a university professor (English literature) who was fond of saying, "Nobody walks away happy from a threeway." I wonder what he would have to say about the Blaine Brothers' Nina Forever, a dark but droll relationship drama that layers on the blood and the sex. This movie, quite literally, has to change the bed sheets often.  

Rob is a bright young man whose future is put on hold after a vehicle accident leaves his girlfriend Nina dead, and his own psyche is scarred to the point of depression and suicide. While receiving support from Nina's parents, who were, it seems, closer to him than his own, Rob quietly toils at a low wage, low engagement, job as a cashier clerk. 
There he meets Holly, a bright young thing we see getting dumped at the beginning of the film by her vanilla boyfriend who tells her that she is too safe and happy; a case of the ceramic pot calling the kettle white. Holly is studying to become a paramedic, and they bond over Rob's nasty road rash from his latest attempt to crash his motorcycle and his life. Sparks fly, clothes drop to the floor, and before you can say "rebound," something curious happens: Rob's emotional baggage manifests itself as a blood and broken glass-encrusted ex-girlfriend, right in the bed, wedging herself between the would-be lovers. 
Kind of creepy. 
Funny as hell. 
Unlike the recent duo of 2014 'zombie girlfriend' flicks Life After Beth and Burying The Ex, Nina Forever aims for sharp emotional catharsis. It dares to get at resonating emotional questions for those young enough to be in their first (or second) serious relationship. 
Consider that the film, in its own curious way, subtly follows the not so subtle rom-com formula, while replacing the romance with (metaphorical) corpse removal and the often mean-spirited comedy in the genre with startlingly sophisticated emotional drama. It is the situation that is funny, not the film trying to pander to the shallow side of its audience psyche. 


This is a film that implicitly references both Solaris (more the Soderbergh version than the Tarkovsky original) and The Singing Detective (the Dennis Potter original, not the truncated Robert Downey Jr. remake). The film is a claustrophobic space, in a claustrophobic relationship involving claustrophobic feelings. In a daring (and successful) gambit, it shows things from both Rob and Holly's perspective. The latter, through her own naiveté, self-inflicts notions of Lady Macbeth on her own head-space, which is deeply fascinating to me as a male viewer of the situation.  
Nina, before she died, was fond of hobby letterpress printing. Rob still has all of her gear, including the space-filling press, and boxes upon boxes of Linotype. As someone who has worked with similar, various pieces of equipment over the years, the 'impression' that people love about the old-style presses, also known as 'bite' or in the case of a light touch of the nip, 'kiss,' strikes me as a good example of the carefully considered thought that went into the design and execution of Nina Forever.
When Rob and Holly have kinky sex involving ink, type, and maybe a nibble or two, things get positively Cronenbergian, with a dash of McLuhan, the temporary (and not so temporary) tattoo where the medium is flesh and the message is fresh. Someone should make the Blaine Brothers honorary Canadians for this alone.
With dialog such as "You do not make happiness, it blooms on things you do not scrub too hard," Nina Forever offers a refreshingly deep consideration of what emotional support is healthy and what is simply co-dependent; how relationship baggage can be shared or it can be a cancer that afflicts everything around it, with no easy answers or cure. A break-up of sorts between Rob and Nina's grieving parents is heart-wrenching in both its honesty and its selfish delusions.  
If the film occasionally gets overly bogged down in the pedantic or in one too many sex scenes, that is likely due to this being a first film, one trying to get the kinks out, so to speak. The pacing isn't perfect, but in a film that is about the awkward process of re-fertilizing of a life or two (or three), that is to be accepted as par for this unusual course. 
I cannot wait to see what the Blaine Brothers have up their sleeve next. Between these two young directors, and this starting-to-get-grizzled-around-the-edges viewer, I remain hopeful for a happy threeway.
Originally published during the Fantasia film festival in August 2015. The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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Abigail HardinghamBen BlaineChris BlaineCian BarryMandeep DhillonShudderUK

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