One of my most anticipated films for Raindance, Nuclear is the directorial debut by Catherine Linstrum. Co-written with David-John Newman, the film follows Emma, a young woman who witnesses her brother attack her mother in the woods. Together, Emma and her mother escape to a nearby town that sits beside a derelict nuclear plant. Whilst venturing around the town, Emma encounters an unnamed Boy and the film follows their blossoming friendship. What was important for me is that this film has connections to Wales and was funded by a variety of Welsh organisations so it definitely was a must-see on my list. A poignant piece on family conflict and the relationships that form in the aftermath of tragedy, Nuclear is a beautiful film that marks the start of a promising directorial career for Linstrum.
The script is phenomenal, chronicling the attack and Emma’s escape, Linstrum and Newman allow the characters to develop through natural encounters. Not allowing Emma to be defined by the tragedy of the beginning, we see her personality blossom through her interactions with the Boy. Despite only being 14, Emma acts much older than her age and longs for tattoos and piercings and a life of adventure far from the life she has had thus far. The writing follows a traditional dramatic route initially before enveloping into a psychological thriller. Through the course of the films we feel Emma’s journey and the anguish that she experiences.
Emilia Jones is a revelation as Emma. At only 18 years of age, she is able to convey the overwhelming fear and despair of the tragic incident that the character witnessed. Hopefully, this is the start of a flourishing career in film as she has made a name for herself on TV shows such as Netflix’s Locke & Key. Automatically assigning herself as her mother’s caregiver, Emma’s journey in the film is one that sees her emotional growth. When she encounters a Boy who lives nearby, she learns not to live in fear. She refuses to allow the incident with her brother define her. Jones’ performance is full of maturity which is rarely seen in an actor so young. Carrying the film on her shoulders, she brings a strength to Emma that makes her both likeable and resilient. Constantly asking questions, Emma wants to know more about the outside world so she has hope for when she escapes the situation she is currently in with her brother.
George Mackay is reliable as always as the boy who Emma encounters. Having made a name for himself in indies such as Pride and Captain Fantastic as well as blockbusters such as 1917, Mackay has a knack for choosing interesting projects that showcase his range and challenge him. Unreserved and carefree, the unnamed Boy encourages Emma to go out of her comfort zone. Where Emma’s life is full of fear, the Boy wants to strip away her fear. Mackay has proven himself to be one to watch and his performance in this film is a brilliant addition to his resume. The Boy is wacky and unpredictable but this is what provides an exciting contrast to Emma and makes the rapport between the two a fantastic combination.
Also in support there is Sierra Guillory as Emma’s mother who is brutally attacked. Known for playing Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil series, it is refreshing to see Guillory take on this dramatic role that is the polar opposite of the action packed Resident Evil films. Despite being a supporting turn, the Mother’s character is also deeply developed. Juxtaposing a seemingly happy exterior for her daughter’s sake, it is clear that inside she is broken and unsure what to do. When she repeatedly encounters a Japanese Lady (Noriko Sakura) around the town, the Mother is unsettled and longs to leave whilst knowing that this is nearly impossible as the car is crashed and they have no money. Guillory’s performance allows her to display her dramatic range and I hope that this leads to more serious roles in the future.
Linstrum’s tale of tragedy is one filled with much tragedy and heartbreak. As the characters find themselves in an unpredictable predicament, they learn how to let go of the past and allow themselves to move on. Nuclear is a film that shows the mental anguish and shock that comes from a broken childhood. The score composed by Stephen McKeon is also absolutely enchanting and helps to enhance the various situations that Emma finds herself in. I really look forward to seeing what Linstrum works on next and hope that Wales serves as the setting again.
Nuclear is showing at Raindance Film Festival.