Review by Sean Boelman
Every anthology seems to have one entry that stands out above and beyond the rest of the pack, and for Welcome to the Blumhouse, that is Zu Quirke’s Nocturne. Eerie and atmospheric, but a riveting high school drama at the same time, Quirke’s film is arguably one of the best pure horror movies of the year as of yet.
The movie follows a young and gifted pianist at a competitive arts school who falls back on unorthodox tactics to outshine her more prodigious older sister. Taking influence from Tartini’s account of the origin of the Devil’s Trill, a story which is even referenced in the film, this is a nice modern twist on the Faustian legend.
This is one of those horror movies that is less concerned with mystery and the suspense that comes with it, and more with the internal dread that is associated with knowing what is going to happen and being completely unable to prevent it. The direction in which the movie is heading is always rather predictable, but it’s a satisfying watch nevertheless.
There is something compelling about watching characters diving into an obsession beyond the point of no return, and it is a theme that Blumhouse has mastered so effectively. And while the film is to an extent a cautionary tale about this type of manic pursuit of a passion, it’s also a very empathetic story about the deterioration of relationships.
One of the most compelling aspects of the movie is the dynamic between the protagonist and her sister, and while there could have been some additional time spent developing this, it doesn’t feel insubstantial, nor does it fall back onto melodrama. Equally impressive is that the sister is a well-rounded character and not a straightforward antagonist.
Sydney Sweeney’s lead performance is effective, but not in the expected way. Her performance doesn’t go for the low-hanging fruit of feeling deranged and exaggerated, instead focusing on the more implicit emotions of the role. Madison Iseman’s performance is more conventional, but acts as great foil to Sweeney’s.
On a technical level, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Of course, there is a soundtrack composed of and influenced by some of the most intricate works of classical music ever created, and that creates a great atmosphere. But the cinematography and production design are excellent as well, creating an alluring world for the film.
Nocturne is clearly the highlight of the Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology, perhaps because it is arguably the most nuanced entry in the batch. Disturbing in a way that creeps under your skin, this is one not to miss for horror fans.
Nocturne streams on Amazon Prime beginning October 13.