Review by Sean Boelman
Lorcan Finnegan’s last film, Vivarium, wasn’t perfect, but it was so ambitious and unabashedly weird that you couldn’t help but admire it for what it was trying to do. His newest movie, Nocebo, might be slightly less ambitious, but it’s no less memorable thanks to some truly excellent use of the horror form.
The film follows a fashion designer suffering from a mysterious illness as she turns to a Filipino folk healer to cure her ailment, only to discover that the healer might not be who she says she is. It’s a very generic premise — and one that almost sounds like it could be problematic — but that really isn’t the concern with the script.
Instead, it’s the fact that it takes an abnormally long time for the movie to get moving. The biggest mistake that writer Garret Shanley made was not creating or sustaining tension throughout most of the runtime. The ending of the film is absolutely fantastic, but it doesn’t feel like there was enough building in the movie to reach that point.
The film also struggles to say much with its themes — although it is hard to justify something happening when it barely happens in the first place. There’s definitely an angle to be found here that discusses the dangers of colonialism and oppression, but it seems as if those parts might have been cut out of the script during a rewrite.
Nonetheless, Finnegan effectively incorporates and repurposes folk imagery into the movie. The argument could definitely be made that there is some form of assimilation or even “otherization” happening in the film, but it is presented in a way that feels sensitive enough that it doesn’t feel like too much of a distraction.
The movie is also just extraordinarily sharp from a technical level. The opening of the film, for example, has a very retro vibe in the way it depicts the fashion industry. And for a smaller production such as this, the production design and visual effects are mostly pretty strong and offer some genuinely disturbing moments.
Eva Green is excellent here, finally being given a role that is more than eye-candy. She gives a very old-school performance reminiscent of someone like James Stewart in Vertigo, where the character’s world is falling apart around them. Mark Strong is also decent in his supporting role, although he isn’t given much to do.
Like Lorcan Finnegan’s previous movie, Nocebo struggles in terms of its writing, but recovers thanks to strong direction from Finnegan. Although the film certainly poses some interesting questions, the visuals are, without a doubt, the highlight.
Nocebo is now in theaters and hits VOD on November 22.