After His House and A Dim Valley, Nuclear is the third film with an uneasy supernatural element that I’ve seen in the last three days. All three use the otherworldly element to put a spin on a familiar genre – two/three genres in the case of Nuclear.
The first is a family drama. Mother (as the imdb calls her, and played by Sienna Guillory) gets a formidable kicking as the film opens, from her son (Brother, as per the imdb, played by Oliver Coopersmith), is rescued by her daughter Emma (Emilia Jones) and driven off into the middle of nowhere, mum to recuperate, Emma to marshal her forces before moving on to who knows what – going back home seems a no-no.
The second is a boy-meets-girl romance when Emma meets George MacKay’s Boy (again as the imdb calls him), a laddish daredevil touring the world to scale massive abandoned buildings. A monster extinct nuclear power station has drawn him to this area but Emma becomes a good reason to stay, the look of disappointment on his face when she tells him she’s only 14 filling in the wordless blanks.
The third is a deadly pursuit thriller once the leering, spice-fanatic Brother decides that there’s business to finish and tracks down Emma with a view to silencing her, one way or another.
And floating somewhere in between is a ghostly Japanese lady (Noriko Sakura) wrenched too quickly from this mortal realm, she tells us as the film starts, and popping up whenever the bruised Mother is on her own.
The film falls fairly neatly into three chunks – the flight and recuperation, the budding romance, the terror finale – though there’s a slight amount of interplay between all three. And it falls into three moods – the domestically banal as mum and daughter have the sort of chats that are had while other subjects are being avoided, the flirtatious between Emma and Boy, then the melodramatic running/screaming/weeping big finish with the big bad brother.
The mother and the brother are to an extent cutouts, Guillory the abused woman licking her wounds, Cooperstreet the psycho, and both do what needs to be done. The “acting” stuff falls to Jones and MacKay, though mostly on Jones, who has talent and a magnetic screen presence. MacKay has those things too, but we already knew that about him. In her first lead role, having already worked with directors from Paolo Sorrentino to Ben Wheatley, Jones is the find.
The film is shot in Wales, and there are no leaves on the trees when Emma and Boy strip to their scanties and plunge into one of those peaty rivers to… I don’t know why but sexual doo-dah is involved and, as anyone will tell you who’s jumped into Welsh rivers like that even in the height of summer, they are shockingly cold – the actors clearly are as committed as their characters. The scene tells us there is something between Emma and Boy, but we already knew that from every twist of a neck or flex of a muscle.
The power of this “something” does tend to plunge the rest of the film into the shade a touch, making it hard to be concerned with Mother, and even less with the floaty Japanese lady whose real purpose is revealed towards the end in a twist finish which lovers of these sort of things will probably have seen coming – the clues are definitely there.
Nuclear – as in family, as in fissile material – but it’s the girl-meets-boy where the dramatic heat is really being generated.
© Steve Morrissey 2020