‘Nocebo’ is a Fiercely Female Revenge Thriller [Review]

Nocebo

Nocebo has a pair of fantastic performances wrapped within a serviceable, yet rarely surprising, morality tale of capitalistic exploitation and insidious folk magic. Titled after the phenomenon whereby negative treatment expectations result in negative results, Nocebo stars Eva Green as Christine. A fashion designer for tykes, Nocebo starts with Christine en route to her latest runway show. The fashion is meh, a mix of fast fashion styles, bright and poppy, but everyone seems to be loving it. Christine then gets a call, incredulously asking “They’re pulling bodies out?” before being cornered by a decaying dog covered in ticks. Months later, Christine is suffering from an inexplicable illness.

From there, Nocebo starts in earnest. Spasms, shakes, and bouts of memory loss assail Christine. Unfortunately, no single doctor can diagnose what’s wrong with her. Her illness has caused strain on her marriage to Felix (Mark Strong), her relationship with daughter Bobs (Billie Gadsdon), and her career. Enter Diana (a fantastic Chai Fonacier), a Filipino home-aide whom Diana doesn’t even remember hiring. She chocks it up to a memory lapse. Christine welcomes Diana into a third story bedroom to cook, clean, and ultimately heal.

The thrust of Nocebo is the interplay between Diana and Christine. One demands unequivocal trust, and the other relapses into doubt and uncertainty. While writer Garret Shanley has some worthwhile thematic underpinnings to drive Nocebo toward its conclusion, there’s little, if anything, that surprises. Director Lorcan Finnegan manages a visceral image or two, especially during its fiery, frenetic conclusion. Yet, Diana’s motives for ingratiating herself into Christine’s life is evident from the start. Nocebo treats the reveal as a surprise, though even the least astute of viewers will know what it is from the start.

Luckily, the dynamism and sinister underpinnings of both Diana and Christine keep Nocebo afloat. In turn antagonistic and deeply reliant on the other, their relationship is Nocebo’s strongest element. Wisely, Finnegan and Shanley keep Nocebo from regressing into stereotypes. With talks of soul transference, toxic water, and Filipino spiritual healing, lesser horror would easily other Diana’s work, deriving horror from something foreign. Nocebo treats Diana’s spiritual predilections with the respect they deserve, rarely if ever succumbing to the fantastical or outrageous. The horror is principally derived from Christine and the sins of her past. Diana and her healing are merely means to an end.

As Nocebo barrels toward its inevitable climax, the violence and intensity amp considerably. Diana’s story, while not surprising, comes into focus. It’s remarkably affecting. Tragic, terrible, and entirely avoidable, it’s a must needed burst of pathos as Nocebo concludes its tale of vengeance and hidden sins.

Like fast fashion at the mall, Nocebo looks a lot like everything else on the surface. While that isn’t entirely wrong, the fine craftsmanship and attention to detail elevate it some above its ilk. With dynamite performances, giant ticks, and an urgent message at its core, Nocebo might be familiar, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful.

  • Nocebo
3.0

Summary

Nocebo is anchored by two excellent performances in a solid, if not exactly surprising, tale of painful revenge.

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