Painful Revelations Arise in Tense British-Filipino Folk Horror Nocebo (2022)
First Non-Festival Release: November3, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Writer: Garret Shanley
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Starring: Eva Green, Chai Fonacier, Mark Strong
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
When a patient predicts negative outcomes for a course of treatment and the subsequent effects of the treatment are worse than what would typically occur, the patient is said to have experienced a nocebo effect. This is essentially the opposite of the much more well-known phenomenon, the placebo effect. For both of these experiences, the user’s expectations changes the results of their treatment. The power is within them.
Christine (Eva Green) is a successful fashion designer with a mysterious illness she is unable to control. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, Diana (Chai Fonacier) shows up at her front door claiming that Christine hired her to help around the house. In a daze, Christine accepts this, despite her husband’s reservations (Mark Strong) and Diana begins working for their family. They discover that Diana’s talents extend beyond housework, as it turns out she is a gifted healer who may have the cure to Christine’s maladies. Diana promises to heal her if Christine is willing to trust her and believe in her methods.
Simmering British-Filipino folk horror, Nocebo sinks its claws deep into its unsettling and powerful premise.
Leaving the audience with more questions than answers, Nocebo sets the tone soundly for its tightly wound tale of supernatural horror. It’s clear that something is wrong as soon as Diana arrives at Christine’s home. Her maladies have proven so intrusive into her life, professionally and personally, that she accepts the help without question. As the film continues, it’s clear to the audience that there is more to Diana’s agenda than being an excellent helper around the house, but it’s hard to pinpoint if her intentions are wholly bad. Her spiritual healing leaves Christine feeling like her old self, even if for moments. This mystery allows Nocebo to subtly build tension as Diana rearranges the family’s power structure as she ingratiates herself in their lives.
Nocebo relies heavily on the characterization of and dynamic between Christine and Diana. Throughout the picture, Christine’s fondness for Diana vacillates based on what she can do for her. From the beginning, Diana is seen as generally positive, completing all the chores Christine couldn’t be bothered to do. Then, once her spiritual work begins healing her body, Christine latches on tighter. Diana keeps her cards close to herself, not revealing her true intentions to ingratiate Christine to her. As Christine’s dependence on Diana strengthens, so does Diana’s chance to enact revenge.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the film is its commitment to speaking truth to power. Once the audience fully understands why Diana has entered Christine’s life, it would have been easy for Christine to plead her case. Surely, she never wanted the fire to happen, taking Diana’s only daughter away from her. Naturally during the finale, Christine breaks down when confronted by the true horrors of her actions and how many lives she ruined for the chance to squeeze out a few more t-shirts out of her sweatshop workers. Her ending is fitting for someone who only shows remorse at the prospect of facing consequences.
The grand result of her actions certain show the lack of dignity she bequeaths to the people in the Philippines but the ultimate tell happens when she approaches Diana’s daughter for a picture in a well-placed flashback. It’s almost like she uses her as a prop as she spreads out a cheap dress across her body while Diana watches from afar, powerless to intervene, invisible to this powerful businesswoman who sees her as nothing more than a piece of machinery. Diana feels powerless once again when she is unable to reach her daughter while she burns to death. Her revenge starts with inflicting the initial malady onto Christine, thousands of miles away, returning that feeling of powerless to her instead. These themes of power and responsibility flow heavy in a folk horror that mixes revenge so sweetly into its story.
Aside from the story and chilling direction, Nocebo is a beautifully filmed folk horror. Striking imagery makes for a stark contrast against the relatively inoffensive city home tucked away in the quieter nook of a suburb. The repeated motifs of fire, smoke, and ash add depth to the story while serving as ominous signs that something isn’t right. Uncomfortably intimate close-ups serve as a reminder of the tactile nature of the film. Each time Diana and Christine touch, there’s an unnerving closeness to it that feels dangerous, as if their proximity will lead to something awful. And it does, which makes the viewers on edge given their distance.
Unapologetically blunt and unrelenting, Nocebo is a perfect mixture of social commentary and folk horror that settles underneath the skin. Its mystery might not be the hardest to decipher, but the payoff is ultimately satisfying once all the pieces fall into place. Well-made and deliberately paced, Nocebo is the winning combination of revenge and folk horror that is sure to evoke something in viewers. Sit down, relax, and trust that you will realize in good time just how good Nocebo will be for you.
Overall Score? 7/10