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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Cold Sore (2010)

Director: Matt Bird
Stars: Saskia Burmeister, Henry Nixon and Peter McAllum
This film was an official selection at the 7th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
Another Aussie movie, Cold Sore is more consistent than I Rot, it has a more agreeably off feel and it's more likely to stay with you. Then again, this was one of the films I saw a couple of times back in 2011 but, less than three years later, I couldn't quite remember how it went until it got there. It's the story of a boy and a girl who meet at a party and the cold sores that both acquire there during a brief snogging session. She's Jenna, who sits on her own, looking completely out of place; he's Guy, who has a lot more confidence, so hones in on her in a neat piece of cinematography. She points out that she's waiting for someone; he adds that he's been stood up by a friend. And so he buys a couple of mojitos, which I now realise were always everywhere in movies and I just didn't realise it until I saw Burn Notice, and they're all set for a night of it. What doesn't happen is what we might expect, because Guy bails on her after a friend calls him at the party. That's a little odd but hey, maybe he's taking it slow... no, it's a little odd.

What does happen is the title. Jenna wakes up in the morning, next to a mostly empty glass of wine and someone else's name badge, with a cold sore on her top lip. We know that this is going to have some serious meaning and Jenna seems to think so too, going to the doctor to have tests run. Perhaps she's just overly sensitive to anything medical, given that she has some weird scars on her body and there's a wheelchair in her apartment. Guy rings, of course, and she puts him off until Friday, to give it a chance to heal up, but when he arrives, he has one too. Dr Darvas rings with the results at a most inappropriate moment, but it's the results themselves that explain where we're going. Or at least we think so. The end of Cold Sore is a neatly powerful one that benefits from the slow buildup and hints at misdirection. This is one of those scenarios that might just invade our dreams and turn them into nightmares because it's never overt, it moves gradually like a creeping thing into our minds where it eventually festers cleverly.

I liked the performances by Saskia Burmeister and Henry Nixon, as well as Jared Underwood's capable score which draws them along. I'm less impressed by the film's pacing; while the dénouement deserves a slow build to deliver its shivers, what it gets isn't as consistently grown as it could have been. I wished less that the film would have been shorter (at eighteen minutes, it's a longer piece than usually makes it into horror shorts selections at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival) and more that the first fifteen would have built more emphatically. As it is, there are a few slow points where little happens and which could have been harnessed to build the tone; perhaps writer/director Matt Bird intended them to. He's aware that the tone is the film's bedrock, but I wanted it to be heightened far more dramatically, through a stronger sound design or a quirkier visual aesthetic, something notable to haul Cold Sore out of the everyday before it lets us in on its odd little secret. I liked this film but it could have been more.

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