Nocebo - New Release Review
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Starring: Eva Green, Chai Fonacier, Mark Strong, Billie Gadson
Written by: Garrett Shanley
Produced by: Brunella Cocchiglia, Emily Leo
Cinematography by: Jakub Kijowski, Radek Ladczuk
Original Score by: Jose Buencamino
A fashion designer is suffering from a mysterious illness that puzzles her doctors and frustrates her husband, until help arrives in the form of a Filipino carer, who uses traditional folk healing to reveal a horrifying truth.
Irish filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan's third feature film is a disturbing and thought provoking exploration into the fears and anxiety of a parents mind, with the torment of an insanely hectic lifestyle blurring the lines between what is real and what is not. It does succeed for the most part but unfortunately the story follows a troublesome trend which makes the path the film takes a little predictable.
Eva Green plays Christine, who lives a bustling life as a very successful children's fashion designer. Her life is suddenly turned upside down after a tragic, mysterious phone call and a visit from a stray tick-infested dog which causes her to metaphorically crash hard and fall seriously ill. Fast forward 8 months later and Christine is left in a debilitated state having to suck on oxygen while she sleeps and struggle daily with hand tremors and visions. Medical science can't quite diagnose her problems but she struggles on in her job anyway until Diana arrives. Played by Chai Fonacier, Diana is a Filipino national hired by Christine to be the live-in help. Christine's health has been so low that she can't even remember requesting any help be sent by the agency.
It soon becomes apparent that not only can Diana be a source of much needed assistance when it comes to housework, dinners and looking after their child Roberta, but she can also help with Christine's mysterious illness, much to the chagrin of her husband Felix (Mark Strong) who incessantly questions Diana's motives.
The tension is there and while Finnegan and cinematographer team Jakub Kijowski and Radek Ladczuk manage to conjure up a fair amount of haunting images on screen, there just seems to be something missing from the end product that failed to leave me on the edge of my seat. Sadly, and despite a halfhearted attempt to sway the audience in the other direction, the script doesn't do nearly enough to bring anything overtly original and if you've ever seen any "foreign curse" type film before then unfortunately this won't really be anything new to you. It reminded me a lot of Remi Weekes' excellent 'His House' in how it was structured, using flashbacks and ghostly hallucinatory images to help tell the story.
There was a moment in the film concerning an argument with Christine and Felix where the script could've added something a bit extra which may have required the viewer to question what they were actually watching. But it's all over in a few minutes and the predictable flow of the story just continued. It's frustratingly cliché and labouring at times.
Even with my criticisms I did enjoy the film. Finnegan clearly has a knack for capturing a lovely looking shot and there's a creepy ambience in the lavish house that the family live in. There's obviously more going on here too. Without giving away too many spoilers, the film is clearly sticking the knife into capitalism and the terrifying, dark nature of how it all actually works. If you've seen the Canadian horror film 'Slaxx' which premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival in 2020 then you'll have an idea what I'm talking about. While 'Slaxx' was able to blend both horror and goofball comedy (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) 'Nocebo' doesn't even consider a comedic approach to any message it's trying to say and it's better for it because the directive is deeply troubling.
I also can't fault the cast at all. Eva Green, as always, is almost flawless here, particularly during her scenes of distress and horror. Chai Fonacier is brilliant too bringing both a natural maternal instinct to her character and something a tad menacing behind the eyes when required.
'Nocebo' is an interesting folk-horror for sure, with atmospheric moments and a great leading performance, however the lack of meaty, intriguing conflict really hurt the climax of the film.
- Gavin Logan
'Nocebo' is released in cinemas Friday 9th December