Nocebo (2022) IMDB description: “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.”
Why I took it off the list: The Sitges Film Festival has rolled into town once again, and as usual, I had to go see at least one film at my favorite horror and fantasy festival. I wasn’t able to go through as much as I would like this year, and I had to be picky.
I had originally intended to do another Sitges Double Feature review of 2 Irish horror films showing at this year’s edition, Nocebo and Unwelcome (2022) (the latter because I had enjoyed the director’s previous horror/comedy Grabbers (2012) so much). But, due to my own disorganization, I accidentally missed the screening of Unwelcome, so only got around to seeing one movie!
Nevertheless, I was glad to have made the screening of Nocebo at least, particularly because star Eva Green was on hand to introduce the film alongside the director and key members of the production team. Also, I was intrigued by the premise and had also been meaning to see director Lorcan Finnegan’s previous film, Vivarium (2019) for a while. And Nocebo turned out to be pretty good!
So, let’s dig into the review!
Review of Nocebo (2022)
Nocebo begins with an unsettling scene set in a brightly-lit, pastel-colored children’s fashion show, where glamourous and confident designer Christine (Eva Green) seems firmly in control. But then she steps out to take a mysterious phone call that sets her on edge, and then she has a strange encounter while alone in another room.
A rather disgusting dog, covered in clusters of ticks, comes out of nowhere and proceeds to shake itself down in front of Christine, causing a particularly juicy tick to latch onto the back of her neck.
The film then cuts to 8 months later, when Christine’s cozy home and professional life have been derailed by a series of debilitating (and mysterious) illnesses. In an attempt to find some respite from having to juggle her job, young daughter, and maladies, Christine has seemingly hired an au-pair of sorts.
But she doesn’t remember doing so – memory lapses being one of her afflictions – so it’s much to her (and her husband’s) surprise when Filipina woman Diana shows up on their doorstep. Diana (Chai Fonacier) is friendly, attentive, and -great for Christine – full of knowledge about traditional homeopathic and spiritual remedies that seem to relieve her ailments.
But there’s something off about Diana from the start, and as the story unfurls we learn more about Christine and Diana’s pasts that hint her presence in the house is not an accident. Along the way, Finnegan conjures an often hallucinatory, mystical tone that employs some startling surrealist imagery and eventually ventures into some icky body horror worthy of a David Cronenberg film.
Green and Strong Are Solid But Fonacier Steals the Show
The reveal that Nocebo eventually builds to is perhaps not as shocking or surprising as the filmmakers intended, but the journey toward it is certainly thought-provoking. The film is full of interesting ideas and eventually functions as a somewhat scathing critique of Western imperialism.
Green is good at playing a charismatic and headstrong career woman on the surface who’s actually a fragile perfectionist underneath. Although Christine is technically the protagonist, she becomes gradually more unlikeable as she asserts her privilege to keep Diana in line, and, particularly, when her darkest misdeeds are eventually revealed.
Despite this, Green gives a committed, fearless performance that manages to explore her fallible, human side even as she descends ever further into manic hysteria. Mark Strong is also solid as her concerned husband, although he doesn’t get that much to do.
But the real revelation in this film is Filipina actress Chai Fonacier as Diana, who comes across at first as both sweet and overtly menacing at the same time. She has some ominously sinister lines to deliver but does so with a campy relish that makes you smile. She’s also incredibly heartbreaking and raw in the vibrantly shot flashback scenes set in the Philippines begin to fill in the mystery of what she wants.
Final score: 7/10
Nocebo (2022): Worth Watching?
Yes, if you’re a fan of the folk horror genre and trippy horror flicks, then Nocebo should be right up your alley. The destination of the film may be a little obvious and the messaging a bit heavy-handed, but Nocebo is an atmospheric and sometimes shocking thriller that’s elevated by strong performances from Eva Green and Chai Fonacier.
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan
Written by Garret Shanley