As we in England enter another lockdown thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, Catherine Linstrum’s hauntingly beautiful Nuclear hits different. Taking place almost entirely in a mysterious rural landscape that feels almost post-apocalyptic in its desertion, the feeling of isolation and emptiness is deeply affecting. Out now on digital from 101 Films, Nuclear is a late contender for film of the year.
The film follows 14-year-old Emma (Locke and Key’s Emilia Jones) who rescues her mother (Sienna Guillory) from an attack by her deeply disturbed half-brother (the always frighteningly brilliant Oliver Coopersmith) and hits the road. After breaking into an empty house, the mother and daughter recover in solitude a sleepy, empty village in the shadow of an intimidating nuclear power station. As Emma roams the eerily abandoned countryside, everything changes when she meets a mysterious stranger (1917’s George MacKay). The film keeps a lot of its cards close to its chest before slowly unveiling them in the film’s final act, while still maintaining enough ambiguity to ensure the film lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled. Nuclear is at times deeply disturbing, but there is a strong, beating heart here. The chemistry between the mother and daughter at the centre of the narrative feels authentic, while Emma’s interesting relationship with MacKay’s stranger is powerfully performed.
With bleak and hypnotic industrial imagery alongside its deserted rural landscapes, Nuclear’s hallucinatory and dreamlike visuals from cinematographer Crystal Fournier (Girlhood) are a thing of true haunting beauty, enhanced by the gorgeous score from Stephen McKeon. Its visuals and raw, affecting power are not dissimilar to HBO’s recent Chernobyl series. While the film does occasionally suffer slightly under the weight of its own vision and come dangerously close to being muddled and disjointed, Nuclear’s visuals and performances bring the film back down to Earth and distract the audience from any shortcomings. An engrossing delivery hooks the viewer from the frightening opening to the final frame, making Nuclear one to watch.
Stunning performances and the film’s hypnotic delivery mean Nuclear’s tight grip never loosens, delivering a powerful and absorbing mystery-drama.