Nicola: A Touching Story (2018) review

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Suffering from a rare condition, Nicola is forced to face her fears when her home is invaded in the short film Nicola: A Touching Story from director Dev Seth.

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Newly-weds Leon and Nicola move into their new home and to celebrate Leon invites his friends Ryan and Nadya to dinner. Soon the visitors notice that Nicola has some serious behavior issues and they all comes to a head the next day when Nicola is left alone to fend for herself when an intruder enters the family home.

Haphephobia is an unusual anxiety disorder, characterized by an intense fear of being touched. It’s fair to say that many people find the idea of being touched by strangers or being touched without consent quite uncomfortable anyway.

Usually, this disorder is the result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that involved being touched in some way. The individual who suffers from it may not remember the exact event that triggered the phobia, particularly if they were very young at the time, but they can still come across as extremely difficult to strangers and loved ones who do not understand the illness. Thankfully there are a number of techniques used by psychologists and Doctors in order to successfully treat the problem. Haphephobia was certainly a disorder I was unaware of, that is, until I saw writer/director Dev Seth’s fifteen-minute debut film Nicola: A Touching Story in which the illness plays a huge part.

Opening with a number of atmospheric edits of cityscapes, drone shots, and the British suburbs, we are left in no doubt something just isn’t quite right. Is the film a thriller or a drama? Seth’s flashy editing techniques during the opening salvo kept us guessing.

A young couple, Leon and Nicola, have been having dinner with friends to celebrate their nuptials and their new home when, as the guests are leaving, the realise Nicola is hiding upstairs in the bedroom. After being gently coaxed down by her husband Leon, Nicola says her goodbyes but then goes on to react quite violently to being hugged by their mutual friend.

It’s an important moment that is the catalyst for the rest of the film and it needs to be sold. Thankfully, Amelia Eve (playing the suffering Nicola) is up for the challenge. She sells the moment brilliantly and, from then on, we totally believe that her troubles are very real indeed. She is helped by Peter Svatik who plays her husband Leon. Svatik is a dashing, impressive presence who manages to anchor the emotional weight of the film. He is certainly up to no good when he makes his cheeky mobile phone calls but he also certainly loves his wife. Svatik manages to portray the character, who has a secret, both caring and seedy with aplomb and our loyalties to him are tested throughout the film.Poster 1 1 211x300 Nicola: A Touching Story (2018) review

As Leon leaves for work, Nicola is left on her own when, at the door, a stranger knocks. He convinces Nicola that he has come to fix the boiler, however, neither Nicola or Leon have arranged this and our intruder precedes to terrorise Nicola for the remainder of the film. Sam Dunning is extremely menacing in this role; switching from chirpy cockney to tormentor in chief in an instant. It’s a strong performance and one I would have loved to have seen more of.

 

Considering the small and limited locations of the film, cinematographer James Martini manages to do a fine job of creating a sense of confusion and space with some of his shot choices. Meanwhile, the soundtrack composed by Stewart Dugdale remained consistently haunting throughout.

If I had one major gripe it would be being left a little bamboozled by Seth’s choice to use subtitles? The film is in English but with English subtitles. I would like to think they were used for people who are hard of hearing. Unfortunately, the cynic in me thinks they were put in to disguise the less than stellar sound production in the first few scenes.

Overall Nicola: A Touching Story is an unusual but decent film focusing on an aberrant illness and because of the educational value alone, I am happy to recommend it. It is a fine debut film from Dev Seth who has the talent to go on and make many more interesting projects and I will look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. 

3.5 / 5 stars     

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