Emma (Emilia Jones) and her mother (Sienna Guillory) have escaped her violent brother (Oliver Coopersmith) by fleeing into the nearby forest, but he is too cunning for them and catches up, leaving Emma to look on helplessly as he savagely beats up his mother, leaving her for dead and setting off in search of his sister, unaware of her observing his crime. She goes over once the coast is clear and revives her parent, who is injured but able to walk, and they manage to make it back to their house where they do as much packing as they can and then take off in the family taxi, Emma doing the driving. Eventually they end up in Wales, the countryside, and a religious retreat left unused for the off-season - but the brother is still searching.
Nuclear got its name from the nuclear power station, decommissioned, that stood in the landscape the characters existed in, a genuine location that director Catherine Linstrum made the best of. Although the film's concerns with mental illness were very current for the era it was released, its language and texture were something of an earlier vintage: if you were at all familiar with the hauntology that dominated certain realms of pop culture in the late nineteen-sixties to the early eighties, especially in Britain, then you would recognise the trappings of this film and the manner in which they were implemented. Yet this was not strictly a horror movie, just as all hauntology was not necessarily in the genre, be that a public information film or children's drama serial.
So do not expect Nuclear to be a direct successor to The Changes, Children of the Stones or The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, despite the echoes of that material in the warp and weft of the rural, nightmarish and uncanny atmosphere Linstrum cultivated. You could term this a fantasy in light of how a couple of twists went, but there were no ghosts as such, for this was where the mental imbalance registered, most obviously in the brother character, but also in the trauma and possible brain injuries of Emma and her mother that he has doled out to them. Emma relates a sorry tale of how her older half-sibling smashed her against a wall when she was eight years old - she is fourteen now - that needed hospital treatment and a prison term for her attacker. But somehow he is out and needing to exact revenge.
Precisely how this state of affairs ended up so badly is not delved into, we catch up more or less in media res and follow Emma and her mother to the retreat, but the unnamed parent is suffering from hallucinations (or are they?) of a Japanese lady (Noriko Sakura) indicating things are not going too well, not that we could not have worked that out before. She confides in her daughter, who sadly is having to take on responsibilities beyond her years, that she feels something awful will happen, only to be reminded that something awful already has happened, summing up post-traumatic stress neatly and bluntly. Meanwhile Emma escapes from the house during the day to strike up a friendship with apparently the only other soul around, daredevil climber George MacKay who wants to add to his collection of online footage, so has his sights set on the power station; he is the brother she should have had, supportive, a bit reckless, but a friend she desperately needs. If it ended a little pat, the moody, lonely feeling throughout was very well conveyed. Much sad cello music by Stephen McKeon.