Most of us like to imagine we’ll leave an impression after we’re dead, but few embrace this idea as wholeheartedly as directors Ben and Chris Blaine in their feature film debut, Nina Forever. Part horror, part comedy, and part very messed up fairy-tale, Nina Forever is a haunting look at how we handle relationships and grief.
To celebrate the film’s release on DVD, Scream caught up with the Blaine brothers to talk blood, horror fans, and what comes after Nina…
SCREAM: First of all, thank you so much for talking to Scream. For our readers who aren’t yet familiar with the film, can you summarise in one sentence what Nina Forever is about?
BLAINE BROTHERS: Nina Forever is about a girl called Holly (Abigail Hardingham) who falls in love with a guy called Rob (Cian Barry), whose dead girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaugnhessy) appears in bed with them every time they make love.
SCREAM: I understand that you’ve been taking Nina Forever on tour around the UK. What has the response from audiences been like so far?
BLAINE BROTHERS: Fantastic. Always different though. In Edinburgh they laughed the whole way through, in Bristol they were silent but almost all stayed afterwards and asked really philosophical questions. We normally get at least one walk-out, which is sort of comforting as we wanted the film to be both unusual and difficult. Overall though the response has been very generous and thoughtful, people have really understood it for the messed up thing it is. We used test audiences a lot during the edit and surprisingly their response drove us to make the film weirder and harder work. I think it’s a mistake to underestimate how much an audience wants to be stretched.
SCREAM: Throughout this tour you’ve been showcasing artwork inspired by the film. How did this come about?
BLAINE BROTHERS: It’s all material that’s been sent to us. Some by fan-artists, lots by artists who happen to also be fans. It’s astounding to see the impact that the film has had. It’s thrilling to see the impression our work has left in their brains and how that then comes out again. There’s a gallery of all the art on the website ninaforever.com.
SCREAM: One of the things that really surprised me about the film was how well it balanced its often hilarious deadpan humour with a more serious emotional tone overall. Were there any concerns during the writing process about how to strike that important balance, or did it come naturally?
BLAINE BROTHERS: That’s just how we write and kinda how we are. We seem to come at life from an angle. It’s also the truth of grief. You can’t look truthfully at death without seeing the tragic, pathetic, wonderful, awful comedy that is life.
SCREAM: The bedroom scenes with Nina rising from the sheets are fantastically creepy while also maintaining a strange intimacy. How did the actors respond to shooting these extremely unusual scenes?
BLAINE BROTHERS: Mainly by laughing. We were amazingly lucky to find three very gifted actors to take on these roles, things did get really intense. In those long conversational scenes between them there are some really dark places they all had to go to and at times it was really emotional and also very difficult. But other parts of the process were perhaps more technical and often got quite silly. Cian is an essentially funny man who will never miss a joke when one appears, then Fi was squashed under the bed waggling her hands through holes cut in the mattress and Abby is a natural giggler so at times it was hard to stop the wrong sort of corpsing. It was just like the film though, one minute they’d be creased up laughing, the next they’d break your heart or make the hairs on your neck stand up. It was a very special shoot, a rare privilege to witness.
SCREAM: Abigail Hardingham’s character Holly is a lot more accepting of her boyfriend’s complicated relationship status than I think a lot of us would be. What was the inspiration behind her character?
BLAINE BROTHERS: It’s a version of some of our own personal experiences, maybe seen through a distorted mirror. If you care for someone you want to help them. When someone is grieving or depressed there’s often a challenge in their hopelessness – you want to prove them wrong, prove that they can be loved, that life can be worth living. Of course in the film we’re pushing everything to the extreme to create an impossible situation, but emotionally the way Holly behaves always felt very truthful to us. There are times in your life when you’d do anything for someone.
SCREAM: How did you decide upon Nina’s makeup and movements in the film? There’s plenty of blood to go around, but Nina always maintains an otherworldly beauty beneath the gore which is very striking.
BLAINE BROTHERS: Thank you, that was always very definitely our intention. Our make-up artist Saffron Powell threw herself body and soul into this project. For a start, she knew that Nina’s tear-ruined make-up and tattoos would be some of the few things that told an audience who she had been so it was all very carefully chosen. She also spent a long time deciding the right pallor for Nina’s dead skin, it’s very subtle but there’s an almost luminescent quality to her body. Saffron also worked closely with Dan (Martin) and Liam (Doyle), the prosthetics team who made Nina’s wounds. They all agreed that sometimes the broken glass embedded in her face would be sugar glass and look painful but at other times it would be diamanté and sparkle in the light. The positioning of her wounds was also quite key so that there are times where we can frame her and she looks cut up and monstrous, but just by turning her head you see how beautiful she still is.
A lot of it isn’t about beauty though, it’s simply that she remains Nina. We were always keen not to let her become a zombie or any other sort of monster or villain. This was essential to Fiona as well who made it clear that she could only play the part if Nina was a person not a monster. She saw it the same as us right from the get go.
We were all agreed that she as Nina was dead, we had to find a way of expressing the difference that made. Her movement was an essential part of that. We worked very closely with a choreographer called Quinny Sacks. She has an incredible talent for finding ways for people to move in unexpected ways that still feel true. She didn’t impose ideas but just knew the best way of bringing the right sort of movement out of Fiona. In our heads the character had no journey but Fiona created one. Across the film Nina gets more comfortable within her broken body and finds new ways of moving it around. This all seemed to help Fiona create this psychological journey of someone coming to terms with being dead. It’s the real truth behind what we’d always said about her not being a ghost, but we’d not realised how to get there. Ghosts always want something from the living and by the end Fiona’s performance shows you that Nina is bored of us, that she’s found some other way of being now. Her eyes at the end are like staring into the night – it is beautiful but it’s also something else too.
SCREAM: You’ve said before that the fake blood used on set was initially so sticky that actors were getting stuck to the sheets, to the extent that you had to add lubricant to the blood mix. Has this put you off making another bloody film in future?
BLAINE BROTHERS: No, now we know how to deal with it we’d just buy up a year’s supply of KY jelly in advance. We’re not too keen on repeating ourselves though. If anything it’s because we could do it again that it becomes less interesting. Like Holly we do sort of love a challenge.
SCREAM: The setting of the film – in the aisles of a chain supermarket, and the rooms of student halls and a block of flats – feels very familiar for British viewers. Was it your intention to make Nina Forever speak to what modern British life is like for a lot of young adults?
BLAINE BROTHERS: We definitely wanted to make a film that was true to our reality. We grew up in the suburbs just outside of North London and that odd landscape is very dear to our hearts. It’s easy to damn suburbs as being neither town nor country, nothing more than places on the way to somewhere else but that creates a tension that’s really interesting. We also loved the idea of taking this big bloody impossible central idea and putting it in the most mundane backdrop possible. There’s this odd idea that some lives are more interesting than others. Some people are more vocal about the shit they’re going through, some people go through shit that is more glamorous but everyone goes through shit. Everyone has their own Nina sprawled across their beds, it’s just that most of us keep the door locked and the curtains drawn for fear that someone else might notice.
SCREAM: There are a lot of tattoos in the film, and one scene in particular of Holly getting a tattoo is surprisingly unsettling to watch – and that’s coming from someone who has a lot of them. Where did the idea behind the ‘Nina Forever’ tattoos come from?
BLAINE BROTHERS: Tattoos are intimate and permanent. I think the “Nina Forever” tattoo came fully formed along with the title which came almost at once when we first properly discussed the idea of the film. In terms of a visual metaphor for that central idea, a tattoo is one of those perfect ones that’s so damn obvious it’s gone right round the register to become subtle and beautiful again.
SCREAM: You’ve mentioned before that Nina Forever was never intended to be a horror film, and that you were surprised by how enthusiastically horror fans responded to it. Given this response, would you ever consider making a fully-fledged horror film in future?
BLAINE BROTHERS: I’m proud to say that we have. I think the misunderstanding was purely on our side. I think all audiences are underestimated but none more often than the horror audience. Horror fans are fundamentally the most imaginative. I think that’s why the horror audience has such love for films that other people often think of as cheap or shoddy. Imaginative viewers see past shitty fx and plot holes and connect with the big freaky idea in the middle of it. But no one else can make that jump, they mistake their own lack of imagination for the horror fan’s lack of taste. But we’ve learnt that horror films don’t have to be cheap, they don’t have to be nasty, they just have to be true because nothing is scarier is than that.
SCREAM: Life goes on after Nina. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
BLAINE BROTHERS: We’re currently writing a film about an 82 year-old portrait painter who goes blind just as she realises someone is coming to kill her. It’s an action thriller, albeit in the same way that Nina is a horror movie. We’re also attached to direct an original screenplay by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh about 4 women robbing a casino in Leith. In principle that’s a heist movie but an Irvine Welsh heist movie so the heist gets less important all the time. We wondered for a while why this amazing thing had fallen into our lap but it’s clear now that it’s another not-what-you-think-it-is so perhaps it does make sense after all.
SCREAM: Thanks again for talking to us, and all the best with your future projects!
BLAINE BROTHERS: Thank you for asking such interesting questions!
Nina Forever is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)