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Nocebo Review: An Entrancing Psychological Thriller With Creepy Elements

June 24, 2023 | By

Nocebo (2022) starring Eva Green, Chai Fonacier, and Mark Strong, is directed by Lorcan Finnegan. Prasanna P explores how Nocebo stands out from the usual horror films and emerges as a perfect example of how the rich crush the work of poor people.

In 2020, the South Korean film Parasite (2019), directed by Bong Joon-ho, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film focuses on what would happen if the members of a poor family who live in a semi-basement flat wished to live the life of a rich family. Since the poor family in the film is infiltrating the rich house, you may think that the title “Parasite” refers to them. However, the director indicates that since the rich family is also dependent on the labour of the poor, the title “Parasite” may relate to both the rich and the poor families.  Hence, from that perspective, the film distinctly shows social inequality, class conflict, and attitude differences between the rich and poor. However, if the film Parasite is filled with more horror elements in the background of the exploitation of workers, it would be the film Nocebo. Henceforth, if Parasite is your cup of tea, then Lorcan Finnegan’s Nocebo will be your special cup of tea with some more mysterious, spooky powder in it.

Eva Green as Christine in Nocebo

Eva Green as Christine in Nocebo (2022) (Pic: Epicmedia Productions/Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland/Lovely Productions/Wild Swim Films/ XYZ Films)

Home plays a central role in Lorcan Finnegan’s previous film, Vivarium (2019). It centres on a couple looking for a home to live in, but they are mystifyingly trapped in a neighbourhood with identical homes. Like Vivarium, the home occupies a significant part of the film Nocebo.

The plot of Nocebo begins with a successful fashion designer, Christine (Eva Green), receiving a phone call. We have no idea who is on the phone or what he/she is saying. However, the call makes her very upset, and once it ends, she mysteriously faces a hideous dog with milky eyes. Then, the film jumps to eight months later, showing Christine being sick. At one point, Nocebo indicates that Christine has rashes, hair loss, bad headaches, nerve pain, shakes, dizziness, absent-mindedness, and also memory loss (but, she remembers all these problems). However, what she’s suffering from exactly is a mystery. Unexpectedly, a woman named Diana (Chai Fonacier) from the Philippines rings the doorbell of Christine’s home and says she has come to help her. On the contrary, Christine could not remember anything about asking for help. Regardless, she welcomes Diana and offers her a room to stay in her home. This surprise existence of a stranger makes Christine’s husband, Felix (Mark Strong), and her little daughter, Roberta/Bobs (Billie Gadsdon), confused. Nevertheless, they all made up their minds that Christine should have called Diana for help, but due to her memory loss, she forgot.

Chai Fonacier as Diana in Nocebo

Chai Fonacier as Diana in Nocebo (2022): (Pic: Epicmedia Productions/Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland/Lovely Productions/Wild Swim Films/ XYZ Films)

In the home, Diana cooks deliciously, maintains the home well, and above all, she excels in the traditional folk healing skills from the Philippines. With her skills, she begins to help Christine by healing her health issues. But she insists that the cure is temporary and not forever. Nocebo shows Diana’s face very closely sometimes, indicating that she has some hidden motives behind her actions. Apart from that, she secretly overhears the conversation between Felix and Christine, and Roberta says, “Diana was flying last night.” So, who is Diana? Why does she have to come all the way from the Philippines to Christine’s home? And what exactly is Christine afflicted with? How does a mysterious dog with milky eyes suddenly appear before her? And what did Christine hear on her phone call at the beginning of the movie that made her perturbed? To all these questions, Nocebo gives concrete answers in the third part of the film.

A screengrab from Nocebo

A screengrab from Nocebo 2022 (Pic: Epicmedia Productions/Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland/Lovely Productions/Wild Swim Films/ XYZ Films)

Eva Green, as a busy fashion designer, suits the role of Christine. As a Bond girl in Casino Royale (2006) and a naval commander in 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), seeing her so kind to children in Nocebo is surprising. Green gradually established herself as a caring mother and a struggling fashion designer looking for a big chance with mysterious health problems. However, Eva Green giving orders to Filipino men is more convincing than a kind woman. Chai Fonacier, as Diana, shines as a native woman with traditional skills, and Mark Strong’s character, as a marketing strategist, always asks the right questions. Nevertheless, compared with Eva and Chai, Mark’s screen presence is limited, and Billie Gadsdon, as Roberta, twinkles as a cute daughter with a petulant attitude.

Even though most of the events are happening inside the home, Nocebo does not feel like a courtroom drama, and the background score elevates the film well. Conversely, some questions remain unanswered in the movie. For instance, even though Christine has memory loss, allowing Diana from the Philippines into her home without checking her background is unconvincing. When Diana says she is here to help, the immediate question that rises in my mind is, “What kind of help?” However, Christine, as a reputable fashion designer, allows her without many questions. Similarly, Nocebo uses many close-up shots to show that Diana is holding something. Even though these over-focused shots maintain the mysterious nature of the movie, sometimes it is also frustrating, like, “Come on, just say what Diana’s motive is.” At the same time, extreme close-up shots of a crow, a tick, and a nestling are clever ideas that will leave a good impression on the audience.

As I said before, the film’s final part gives convincing answers to all the mysterious questions. Nocebo is a perfect example of how the rich crush the work of poor people. In general, horror films incorporate elements of mystery, thriller, and even humour in some cases. However, Nocebo mixed the traditional folk healing skills with horror against the capitalistic elements. Moreover, it exposes the poor working environment and the dangers of exploiting the workers for profit. Hence, from this perspective, Nocebo stands out from the usual horror films. Once the film ends, it will be no surprise if you categorise it as anti-capitalistic. Overall, Nocebo has a slow start, then steadily speeds up and reaches its destination at the perfect time. Henceforth, the film stands on the list of worth seeing, and for mystery-thriller moviegoers, Nocebo will be a fine dessert.

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Prasanna P is an ICSSR Doctoral Fellow pursuing his Ph.D. in history at Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli, in the State of Tamil Nadu, India. In his doctoral research, he investigates Handloom Weavers and the Weavers’ Co-operative Societies in India. Further research interests include Film Studies and Contemporary Politics.
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