Dir. Lorcan Finnegan (2022)
A fashion designer suffers from a mysterious illness that gets work after using traditional folk healing.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
A fashion designer named Christine (Eva Green) receives a phone call about a terrible accident during one of her shows. Shortly thereafter, she has a vision of a dog shaking off flees in her studio, one of which lands on her and brings about a mysterious illness that is mystifying her doctors and her family. When she receives a knock at the door from a Filipino caregiver named Diana (Chai Fonacier), who claims that Christine hired her to stay and become her caretaker and has somehow forgotten, things actually start to get better through her bizarre treatments of the illness. Lest we forget that we’re watching a horror movie and not a feel-good buddy dramedy, we are quickly introduced to Diana’s power, which has the possibility to heal or destroy through vague folk witchcraft. Is she good or evil? Is her goal to heal or to destroy? And why?
Thankfully, director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley, the duo behind the excellent and bizarre Vivarium, want to answer those questions in this poignant tale of revenge and the outer symptoms of inner turmoil. The name of the film is a reference to a term that means the opposite of the placebo effect, where a negative result occurs due to the belief that a treatment is harmful. The psychosomatic nature of illness and the extent to which mind has just as much of an effect as matter is a fascinating subject for dissection, and it’s a subject that Nocebo takes great interest in unraveling. The film also seeks to address the underlying prejudice within society, prejudice that we take for granted within our economic system. We’ve all heard real-life stories like the one that forms the basis for this film, and more than likely we shook our heads at the sad state of affairs and went back to reading something else on our iPhone while drinking our latte on the way into the Gap. It doesn’t affect us so we don’t pay attention. There’s so much of our lives that can be described exactly like that, as we, as a society, care very little for things that don’t affect us. We don’t give much thought to the extent to which the things that we take for granted in our everyday lives affect the lives of millions of people around the globe. They’re numbers, not people, but each of them lives their own lives outside of our circle of existence. Nocebo examines the impact of these realities from the perspective of one who actually has to deal with the decisions made by someone a million miles away.
The movie has a few shortcomings, most notably a snail-paced plot that plods along, threatening to break free from its shackles at any moment but only getting there in the end. The acting is good but at times struggles to carry the scenes forward, as Green and Fonacier attempt to breathe life into a story that needed a few more bits and pieces to enhance the mystery that was fairly easy to surmise near the beginning of the film. For all of its negatives, which thankfully are limited largely to its lethargic pacing, there is a nefarious sense of dread throughout that is actually fairly effective, as well as a few scenes of terror that will make your skin crawl. Once the mystery is resolved within the film, it’s actually handled incredibly well and becomes downright creepy. The idea of “magic” and healing being an inner trait that is passed down is an interesting one, and the way in which the film portrays these things is unique enough as to be interesting, and the audience is left with a feeling of guilt for their own parts in the proceedings. It’s a well-done film, one that is a bit deeper than most streaming horror dares to go. If it finds its audience, it could be a memorable film that could have an impact.
Who this movie is for: Slow burn horror fans, Body horror lovers, Late-stage Capitalists
Bottom line: A unique and interesting concept brought to slow-burn life, Nocebo is an excellent take on the crimes of capitalism and the extent to which the consequences of our actions can come back to haunt us. The acting is decent and it’s a well-shot film, one that will find its audience on Shudder. It’s streaming starting 2/24, and I definitely recommend giving it a shot if you like dramatic slow-burn horror with some grotesque body horror thrown in for good measure