Nuclear caught my interest immediately, with a synopsis featuring an ominous nuclear power plant and George MacKay on the cast list. After being blown away by his performance in 1917, I couldn’t wait to see him in the horror genre. In this film, he plays a nameless ‘boy’ who our protagonist meets after a traumatic event.
This is Catherine Linstrum’s feature length debut, after previously directing a number of short films. She also wrote it alongside David-John Newman, which is also his feature debut. The film opens with Emma (Emilia Jones) and her mother (Sienna Guillory) running away from their unstable brother and son (Oliver Coopersmith).
It starts off promising, as something awful must’ve happened to make them run away so suddenly, but it starts to lull pretty quickly. Disappointingly, the first 45 minutes of this film are painfully slow, and it’s hard for us to actually care about any of the characters.
It’s also unclear why Emma is the only named character in the film, with the others simply credited as ‘mother’, ‘boy’, and ‘brother’. The characters feel distant and there’s no real connection between them and the audience.
In addition to this, Emma’s mother keeps seeing a strange hallucination of another woman, and it’s not really explained who this is or her significance. It’s a shame the mother wasn’t fleshed out more because there could’ve been a potential for some really interesting character development here. There’s also a twist involving the mother, but I felt this could have been more impactful.
Emma is the only character we really know anything about, and Nuclear is certainly her film. Emilia Jones is great as a troubled teen trying to escape a toxic family, and the strength of her performance saves the film somewhat. Gradually we learn more about her, and why she’s so fearful of her brother.
Nuclear picks up the pace about an hour in, so it’s certainly a slow burn at first. But when we finally get to enter the power plant and some dark truths emerge, the film becomes more engaging and makes up for its difficult start.
There’s some interesting visuals throughout, with the framing creating a sense of agoraphobia and isolation. With such a small cast, there’s not many people in this film and it creates a sense of dread throughout as you’re never quite sure who or what’s round the corner.
The power plant is a scary place, but the radiation is the least of Emma’s worries during the third act’s final showdown. By the time we reach the film’s ending, it starts to slow down again and it might confuse some viewers. There’s a lot of unanswered questions here and it feels like the kind of film that expects you to make your own mind up.
Overall, Nuclear had some real potential but sadly failed to hold my attention for the majority of the film. If we’d had some more backstory to characters and a tighter pace, it could’ve been so much better than the final product was. But if you like slower, more ambiguous films, this might be one for you.