Back in 2004, a little British zombie flick, with an on-the-nose title, called Shaun Of The Dead bludgeoned its way into our collective hearts while simultaneously, and somewhat unknowingly, kick-starting its very own sub-genre, the rom-zom-com (i.e. romantic zombie comedy). A combination of certain, key elements of romantic comedies, zombie movies and, naturally, straight horror, the humble rom-zom-com has grown over the years to be a many-headed beast.
Most of those heads, bar a few notable exceptions such as Kyle Rankin’s charming Night Of The Living Deb, are forgettable tosh but Nina Forever, the debut feature from British writer-director brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, looks set to put a new spin on an already pretty tired format. Much like Deb, our heroine this time around is a young woman named Holly (Abigail Hardingham), a sweet, albeit slightly weird trainee paramedic/supermarket employee with a crush on fellow shelf-stocker Rob (Cian Barry).
Holly spots her chance to woo Rob when his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) tragically dies in a car accident. And, after charming her way into his life via a shared pomegranate, the newly-formed couple finds themselves in bed together. Unfortunately, just when they’re getting down to business, Nina decides to return from the dead, leaving the sheets covered in blood while Rob and Holly try to decide whether they should, or can, keep going.
Nina Forever isn’t your typical rom-zom-com. For one thing, there are not nearly enough big laughs to really call it a fully-fledged horror comedy. What humour does exist is of the desert-dry, defiantly black, very British variety (“You’re dead!” Rob reasons, when questioned by his ex as to how he can bring himself to shag somebody else, “Doesn’t mean we’re on a break though, does it?” Nina counters nonchalantly).
Holly starts off trying to match Rob’s crazy, but once Nina arrives, it becomes clear she’s way out of her depth. Thankfully, writing-directing team The Blaine Brothers don’t pitch the two women against each other in the way most other films of this ilk, such as Burying The Ex or Life After Beth, would. Rather, Holly does her best to make Nina feel welcome, even when it’s clear she’s wasting her time.
The title may refer exclusively to Rob’s ex but it is Hardingham, as Holly, who has to do most of the heavy lifting here. Nina and Rob are, understandably, kind of one note–he’s devastated/confused, she’s deadpan about being dead–but Holly is tasked with moving things along, for much of the movie. Luckily Hardingham, a relative unknown aside from small roles in the likes of Hollyoaks Later, takes to the role with aplomb.
Sweet, rather than needy, sexually adventurous, rather than desperate to please, and increasingly unhinged but never full-on mental, Holly is a mess of emotions at the best of times but always easy to empathise with. And, even though it’s clear how much she loves Rob, it’s difficult not to root for her to succeed above all else. This may be ostensibly Nina’s story, but Holly’s the real star.
As the ex dug rising from the grave, Fiona O’Shaughnessy spends most of her screen-time naked and covered in blood. The make-up effects in Nina Forever are impressive to a fault, particularly during Nina’s introduction, when she crawls up through the bed to interrupt Rob and Holly’s love-making. It’s a moment that could’ve been played for laughs, but with O’Shaughnessy’s hollowed eyes, pale skin and her limbs twisting this way and that, it’s horrifying.
Nina may be a zombie but, much like Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies or Aubrey Plaza in Life After Beth, she’s still attractive enough that when the idea of a threesome is initially floated, it doesn’t seem too out of left field. Leaving blood stains wherever she goes, Nina’s appearance is telegraphed by a small spot of the red stuff on the white sheets, which slowly grows depending on how close she is to bursting through the mattress.
It’s an interesting, weighty moment of symbolism that is repeated throughout the movie, along with the requisite bed changing and cleaning that occurs once Nina has left. Nina Forever is vastly different from other rom-zom-coms thanks to its sexual content, but it isn’t any less sweet than the likes of, say, Shaun or Deb. At its core, this is a story of love lost and found, and the difficulties of maintaining a relationship when the ex is still hanging around (here, literally).
Rather than relying on obnoxious gore, self-referential jokes, misogynistic representations of females in relationships, or been-there-done-that zombie tropes we’ve seen a million times before, Nina Forever tells a classic, no-nonsense boy-meets-girl-meets-zombie story with nothing but a sharp script, a trio of strong performances from its core cast and enough blood and heart to make us really care.
The result is a surprisingly poignant, true-to-life tale of a doomed relationship with plenty to say about love, loss, and grief, with just enough elements of rom, zom and com to qualify Nina as a worthy successor to Shaun, Deb and everyone else.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Writer(s): Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Stars: Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Studio/ Production Co: Jeva Films
Length: 108 minutes