In “Nocebo”, Eva Green plays a fashion designer who’s suffering from a unexplained illness. She’s seen several doctors and has been prescribed numerous medications, but nothing has seemed to help. Her husband (played by Mark Strong) is growing impatient which has put a strain on their marriage. But when a mysterious woman shows up at their door, the story moves from a family drama to something darker and far more twisted.
That might be the basic setup for the movie, but “Nocebo” has quite a bit going on under its surface. It’s a creepy and sometimes gnarly psychological horror film. Yet at times it plays like a socio-political thriller, especially in its sly digs at class, greed, entitlement, and corporate oppression. Director Lorcan Finnegan finds room in his film for both genre and commentary. And while I’m still not sure how well all of the pieces connect, Finnegan, along with screenwriter Garret Shanley, craft something that’s both entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking.
Christine (Green) has enjoyed a successful career designing children’s clothing. She lives in a posh home in an upscale neighborhood with her marketing strategist husband, Felix (Strong). Their daughter Bobs (Billie Gadsdon) attends an expensive private school. Without question it’s a comfortable life of plenty, but that suddenly changes. While presenting her latest clothing line at a fashion show, Christine is jarred by a frightening vision (or is it a vision?). She sees a mangy, milky-eyed dog covered in large clumps of blood-gorged ticks. I won’t spoil the details of this genuinely creepy and deliciously gross scene, but it ends with her snapping back as if from a dream yet with one pretty nasty tick bite on the back of her neck.
Shortly following her ghastly vision, Christine begins suffering from an assortment of symptoms such as headaches, tremors, trouble sleeping, and absentmindedness. Eight months pass and her condition has only worsened, affecting her life at work and at home. But then she’s suddenly surprised when a petite Filipina caregiver named Diana (Chai Fonacier) shows up at her door seemingly unannounced. The mysterious and unassuming woman says Christine hired her and this was to be her first day. Fearing she’s having another memory lapse, Christine invites Diana in and gives her a room upstairs.
So did Christine hire Diana and forget or is there something more sinister going on? That’s a key question and we feel we know the answer pretty early on. But much of the fun comes from watching Finnegan and Shanley carve in the details as they unpack the truth. And the cast gets some good material to work with, especially after Diana arrives. Her creepy yet cryptic presence drives a wedge between Christine and Felix. He quickly grows suspicious of Diana’s strange medicines and folk remedies while Christine slowly grows more dependent on them. Green, Strong, and Fonacier are a proficient trio with each filling in certain pieces of the overall puzzle. Green is especially good, especially in the second half as her character begins to completely unravel.
“Nocebo” earns points for it’s underlying message which comes to the surface through Diana’s interwoven backstory. It’s a well shot and well incorporated addition even if it doesn’t quite pack the final punch it could have. Still, the message in itself is potent and makes us look at the story through a new lens. And while most of the film relies on the audience’s patience, it loses some of that trust in a final act that’s a touch on-the-nose. But none of those things lessen the fun or dull the film’s psychological edge. And Lorcan Finnegan shows himself to be a compelling craftsman, using folk horror (yes, the ticks return) and evocative symbolism to dole out some genuinely unsettling scenes. “Nocebo” opens in select theaters this Friday, November 4th and on VOD November 22nd.