Eva Green, Mark Strong, Chai Fonacier, and Billie Gadsdon
Fashion designer Christine (Eva Green) suffers from a mysterious illness. Her doctors perplexed by this illness offer no reprieve. Her husband Felix (Mark Strong) grows more exasperated with each passing day. When things feel the darkest a ray of hope arrives at their doorstep. Filipino nanny Diane (Chai Fonacier) uses traditional folk healing and reveals a horrifying truth.
By Chris Hammond
To understand what is going on in NOCEBO you must understand the meaning of the word. (noh-SEE-boh) A harmless substance or treatment that may cause harmful side effects or worsening of symptoms because the patient thinks or believes they may occur or expects them to occur – National Cancer Institute.
Nocebo is the polar opposite of a Placebo. The power of suggestion can cause our brains to manifest pain or worse.
NOCEBO fits under a hybrid horror genre but also deals with real-world problems and Eva Green, who dips her feet in the horror genre, does a marvellous job of conveying this. There are instances in the film where Green’s ever-growing pain engulfs the audience. Is this pain real or is this pain something far more sinister?
The film has visual elements that haunt and engage. Director Lorcan Finnegan knows how to pace films out. Something is happening in each scene that catches your eye. He always keeps the audience guessing as to what is going on.
Each cast member plays their part as though they’ve lived the character. Newcomer Chai Fonacier steals scenes as Nanny Diane. There’s a skill to making a character like hers believable. Good writing and good direction are only half the equation. The other half consists of raw talent, and Fonacier has this in spades.
Not to be outdone, Mark Strong, as Felix, balances his hefty set of emotions. His job as a marketing strategist only makes him see people for their financial values. There are times in the film when Strong’s facial expressions grow more pronounced. You can feel the underlying tension that is building.
There are layers of different themes to unpack with the film. Capitalism, greed and the use of cheaper labour from/in other countries. NOCEBO doesn’t shield the audience from the dark and evil, rather it spotlights the issues. It also draws upon real events as Finnegan explains
“One of the main influences for our story was the Kentex factory fire in Manila, where 72 workers died in 2015. ‘Pugon’, the song over the closing credits of the film, is about this tragedy”.
Both Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley did plenty of research in preparation for the film and found that many folklores that people know are not that different from one another
“We travelled to Cebu and Sequijor islands in the Philippines where we met with witch doctors, shamans, practitioners of Kulam (black magic), and faith healers as well as indigenous tribal chiefs of the Ati and Bajao tribes. We found that between the Island of Ireland and the Island of Cebu, though over 7000 miles apart, we shared very similar folklore, even down to details such as turning your jacket inside out to escape faery circles”.
The care and research Finnegan does really shines through on screen. There’s an authenticity to psychological and supernatural scenes. This in itself is terrifying and difficult to digest. There’s a freshness to the story, gone are the jump scares. This isn’t to say there are no scares. One of the biggest ones comes in the form of a gigantic tick which Ava Green gets up close and personal with.
The final piece that drives this final is its score. Jose Antonio Buencamino adds fuel to an anxiety-fueled fire with haunting percussions. These queues hit in a way that floor the viewer.
Finnegan uses visual breadcrumbs as hints to what is going on until the shocking reveal. The final act is tension-filled, to say the least.
NOCEBO is one of the most intriguing films of 2022 with a cast and content to match.
In Theaters November 4, 2022
On Digital and On Demand November 22, 2022
Run Time: 97 Minutes | Rating: Not Rated