Vague Visages’ Nocebo review contains minor spoilers. Lorcan Finnegan’s 2022 movie stars Eva Green, Mark Strong and Chai Fonacier. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Lorcan Finnegan’s Nocebo works as a companion piece to his previous feature, Vivarium (2019), but doesn’t match the overall quality. Both films integrate birds as a thematic device; a means to explore the give-and-take nature of relationships. If Vivarium is a visually stylish and relatively contained mystery to solve, Nocebo reads like a didactic sociopolitical commentary about greed and accountability with so-so performances from the main players, even though it is undeniably one of 2022’s great tickle movies.
Nocebo examines the crumbling psyche of Christine (Eva Green), a fashion designer who refuses to properly address a sweatshop whoopsy from her past. Eights months after a public breakdown — in which she sees a dog with all the diseases — the protagonist receives a visit from a Filipino woman, Diana (Chai Fonacier), who claims that she was offered a caregiver position. The woman’s presence concerns Christine’s husband, Felix (Mark Strong), but pleases their lonely daughter, Bobs (Billie Gadsdon). Diana’s alternative medicine practices create friction within the household, allowing for a chamber piece that converses back and forth, in terms of thematic elements, with the aforementioned Vivarium.
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In both Vivarium and Nocebo, the central villains acknowledge their power to heal or destroy. The latter film leans heavily on a giveth-and-taketh-away premise for a full-circle character study. Garret Shanley’s script primarily benefits Fonacier, an accomplished Filipino actress who presumably won’t be easily recognizable to North American audiences. She holds her own alongside Green, who thrives during mental breakdown sequences and arguably delivers one of the century’s best wake-up screams.
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Strong receives little screen time in Nocebo, while Gadson has some memorable lines as Christine’s sarcastic daughter. The minimalist approach, in terms of character dialogue and delivery, produces a camp effect at times (which isn’t consistent from act to act), though Finnegan and Shanley effectively underline the psychological control that Diana has over Christine, evidenced by their first meeting in which Fonacier’s character essentially hypnotizes the unassuming protagonist with her tone and reaffirming statements.
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If I personally hadn’t already seen Vivarium, then Nocebo would probably seem like a strong-to-quite-strong thriller. Finnegan once again includes lively soundtrack songs and surrealistic, trippy visuals; multiple shots of a sick dog feel genuinely unnerving. But Nocebo doesn’t immerse the audience into its world. The film doesn’t necessarily lack style and flow — it’s just not as aesthetically fluid and vibrant as Vivarium, an unorthodox thriller with exceptional lead performances from the wonderful Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg. Overall, Nocebo is just too straight-forward and clean with its storytelling.
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Nocebo is indeed a rewatchable film. Stoners will giggle at Malignant-like character moments — “You pitiful wretch!” — while folk horror enthusiasts will surely appreciate the black magic ingredients. I just can’t tell if Finnegan and Shanley wanted to create a Vivarium companion piece or if they recycled several concepts in order to make a better, more potent film that expands on ideas about dreaming and the circle of life, or what it means to live with someone, or something, “forever.” However, I respect and appreciate the big swings and misses. You can’t hit and celebrate a home run without first exploring familiar territory.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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