From director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley (Vivarium), Nocebo follows fashion designer Christine (Eva Green). During a show of her latest work, Christine sees a diseased dog shake in front of her. As she attempts to protect herself, the dog disappears, but a tick embeds itself in the back of Christine’s neck.
Eight months later, Christine is now crippled with an illness that doctors can’t diagnose. A live-in Filipino carer named Diana (Chai Fonacier) arrives to help Christine and seemingly has folk healing methods that at least ease Christine’s symptoms, but Diana is connected to Christine in a much more macabre sense.
Also starring Mark Strong (Shazam, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Christine’s husband Felix and Billie Gadsdon (Cruella) as their daughter Babs, Nocebo is a psychological thriller pulsating with vengeance the second Diana is introduced.
It feels like the film is intended to play out like an innocent, hard-working mother comes down with a mysterious illness out of nowhere. But Diana’s actions and body language reveal that Christine has some skeletons in her closet.
The film has some familiar story turns, which hurt it slightly. Diana’s unusual medicinal treatment involves taking fireplace ashes, tickling to relieve shakes, and blowing bubbles in murky water until it becomes clear. As bizarre as it seems, the treatment is initially helping Christine but Felix doesn’t like it. He has issues with Diana from the start and wants any reason to get rid of her.
The high points of the film are the short lived, more surreal elements. Christine has sleep paralysis that rolls into a nightmare of a giant tick crawling on her body as she attempts to sleep and it’s unsettling in the best of ways.
The explanation of how Diana learned so much about the healing aspects of nature is also really intriguing; the baby bird that lives inside of a host that jumps ship whenever the vessel is about to permanently expire is fascinating cinematic folklore that deserves more screen time.
Nocebo tends to keep circling the idea of appreciating what you have rather than constantly wanting more. As Christine’s condition improves, Diana reminds her on several occasions that it’s only a temporary cure and that she should rest.
As Christine has lost a lot of work because of her illness, she insists on working. This all ties in to the end of the film, which goes in a direction that is not unexpected but is still bold enough in the sense that it makes the film worthwhile. Nocebo blurs the line between vengeful nature and supernatural phenomenon while also diving into just how parasitic a successful person can be.
Nearly all of what seems like random horror infused hallucinations tie into past events for either Christine or Diana. While Christine has a family, she ignores them and prioritizes work. Diana is the opposite as she was once a part of a family with a husband and a daughter, but now works to fill that emptiness. Diana is not so much jealous of what Christine has, but is driven by what Christine took from her.
It’s unfortunate that Nocebo makes Diana’s intentions so obvious from the start as the film could have benefitted from the conclusion being a bit more surprising. The fact that you expect something from Diana hurts the overall impact of what is otherwise a twisted and solid finale.
The performances in the film are nothing special either. No cast member is necessarily bad, but nobody is memorable either. Eva Green seems to have the most to work with and Chai Fonacier struggles with resting b***h face the entire film, but the argument can be made that both Mark Strong and Billie Gadsdon are just going through the motions.
Nocebo’s most memorable moments are too brief to leave a long lasting impact. While the film has some clever explanations for things and a handful of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dark fantasy sequences, it is mostly a mediocre thriller that is only worth seeking out for its unshakable finale.
- A fantastic ending.
- The origin of Diana's folk healing.
- The unsettling tick dream sequence.
- Performances are so-so.
- Diana's body language gives away far too much.
- Is a mediocre film apart from its ending.