Mundane Demonic Thriller Nocturne (2020) Plays a Melody We Have Heard Before
First Wide Release: October 13, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Zu Quirke
Writer: Zu Quirke
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and Vivian (Madison Iseman) have played piano nearly all their lives, but Vivian is the only one attending Julliard come the autumn semester. Quietly mourning her rejection, Juliet tries to forge her own plan for graduation when she comes across the music theory book of a classmate who, just six weeks earlier, died by suicide. Soon, Juliet becomes consumed by the strange encryptions in the notebook which gives her confidence and skill. Later she’ll realize it comes with a price.
Nocturne is a fine, but forgettable supernatural thriller that treads into familiar territory.
The problem with Nocturne is that it occupies territory that has been done to death and offers nothing new to the story. Artists getting lost within their passion and spiraling uncontrollably later can be effective when paired with a particular message. This pedestrian melodrama doesn’t offer much of anything unique. Furthermore, there are some large gaps in realism that do not make sense for a film that tries to establish a ‘normal’ reality versus the nightmarish descent of Juliet’s sanity. The parents are comically unaware and the school behaves in ways that make no sense. What educational institution would hold a music competition in honor of a child who died just a few weeks prior? It feels farcical.
Good acting can’t save bland characters here. Despite her character being ultimately uninteresting, Sweeney performs Juliet well. Cracks of a deeper and more nuanced Juliet are exposed with little moments here and there. Sweeney does this thing where she gives little slanted smiles whenever something bad happens to her sister. It makes her more sinister and does add a nice layer to the film. Unfortunately, the relationship between the sisters could be better defined. Their distance says a lot but why did it get there? Director Zu Quirke may not be particularly interested in their history, but it could have fleshed out the film better by adding conflict.
One of Nocturne’s sole strengths is its imagery and music. The score aptly weaves excitement and terror within the narrative. At times the central piece is absolutely haunting, especially when paired with a fainting spell or another destabilizing moment. The use of striking colors gives the film energy and life. Warm, yellow lights beckon Juliet to inflict pain on herself and others are a great representation of the devil within Juliet: her thirst for stardom. The last shot is my favorite of the film: classic and macabre as well as a great use of camera panning out before the credits.
It’s hard to say that Nocturne isn’t decently made from a production standpoint. Aside from some cheesy ghost effects, the blood is convincing, which seems to be more difficult for horror films to get right than one would think. A scene involving tampons stuffed in an undesirable location is a great visual flair propelled by realistic effects work. Some of the few times I found myself enjoying Nocturne are when Juliet plays the piano and gets lost in the music. The transitions in and out of consciousness are executed well and make for good cinema.
Admittedly, I was hooked in the beginning before my interest gradually faded once Nocturne leans into takes this theme and runs with it. Juliet finds new power with Moira’s notebook and systematically takes action against her mentor, another teacher, her first hook up, and her sister. But are Juliet’s actions a direct result of reading an incantation in a music book or are they the result of insecurity and desire for attention? I think it is more of the latter. In one of the very first scenes we are introduced to Juliet and Vivian, Vivian is deep in practice while Juliet awkwardly hangs out with her parents and their friends. Not once in
Directionless ambition ruins yourself and others. Told time and time again in morality tales, Nocturne takes this theme and runs with it. Juliet finds new power with Moira’s notebook and systematically takes action against her mentor, another teacher, her first hook up, and her sister. But are Juliet’s actions a direct result of reading an incantation in a music book or are they the result of insecurity and desire for attention? I think it is more of the latter. One of the very first scenes we are introduced to Juliet and Vivian, Vivian is deep in practice while Juliet awkwardly hangs out with her parents and their friends. Not once in Nocturne does Juliet seem excited or passionate about music. She cares about fame and beating her sister. It’s not a revolutionary concept, but it does clearly cement Juliet’s character.
Ultimately, Nocturne is a mediocre version of dozens of films that came before it. It was a fine use of an hour and a half, but I would never intentionally choose to watch it again. Solid performances, great music, and some interesting visuals anchor the film but there’s not much else here. I would only recommend it to those who enjoy horror films set in the art world or are otherwise trying to kill some time. Unless you are looking to end your night on a down note, look elsewhere.
Overall Score? 5/10