In NOCEBO, a fashion designer (Eva Green) suffers from a mysterious illness that confounds her doctors and frustrates her husband (Mark Strong) – until help arrives in the form of a Filipino nanny (Chai Fonacier) who uses traditional folk healing to reveal a horrifying truth.
After a mysterious phone call and a simultaneous encounter with a mangy dog riddled with ticks, Christine’s physical and mental health rapidly declines. Suffering from sleep apnea, nightmares, forgetfulness, and sharp, debilitating pains at any given moment, her already vulnerable marriage and successful fashion design career teeter on the edge of destruction. When Filipina Nanny Diana arrives at her door, Christine does not recall sending for her, but the extra set of hands proves life-changing, for better or worse.
Diana’s integration into the family lands somewhere between awkward and essential. Husband Felix and young daughter Roberta (they call her Bobs) are caught in the middle, allowing for gaslighting from Felix and growing distrust from Bobs. Add in the class distinction with Christine and her family living in a lavish mansion, while Diana arrives with nothing but a single suitcase, mostly filled not with clothing. Writer-director Lorcan Finnegan utilizes flashbacks of Diana’s life to illustrate the glaring contrast. Little by little, the audience begins to piece things together, but not before being disturbed by the effects of Diana’s folk healing methods.
Finnegan uses the color red in many specific instances; lipstick, curtains, and, most impactfully, Christine’s lucky shoes. The color is a sumptuous visual punch set against the mostly jewel-toned house. Finnegan understands the assignment.
As the story progresses and the truth reveals itself, your view of each character shifts. Eva Green plays Chrissy with both a manic and ruthless angle. She is a master at living inside the skin of a character, and Christine is no exception. Chai Fonacier is Diana. This juicy role allows us to see Fonacier’s massive range. I would watch her in all the things, as they say.
Radek Ladczuk‘s cinematography, which I loved in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and The Nightingale, is just as emotionally jarring in both overt and subtle forms. The closeups of hands, small objects, and facial features pull the audience into the overall mystery of Christine’s ailment and the impact of her family.
*********The next paragraph has a bit of a spoiler. Skip it to keep the mystery intact!*********
In the credits, just after the music tracks, I noticed bold text reading, “Justice for all Kentex workers.” A quick Google search led me to a story from 2015 in Manila in which a factory fire killed 72 factory workers after they were trapped on the second floor. Metal grates on the windows prevented them from escaping a horrifying death. We have heard so many of these same stories of unsafe sweatshop conditions. NOCEBO I pulls directly from the 2015 tragedy, making the film all the more terrorizing.
****** End Of Spoiler Info******
NOCEBO boasts a jaw-dropping and shockingly dark finale. Mixing folklore and revenge horror never miss. The term “nocebo” comes from the Latin to harm. The Oxford definition reads: “a detrimental effect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis.” Finnegan slickly lulls you into one genre, then pulls the rug out from underneath us. The truth will either set you free or destroy you. NOCEBO is here to remind us all.
RLJE Films will release NOCEBO in theaters on Nov. 4, 2022 and on Demand and Digital on Nov. 22, 2022. The film will stream on Shudder at a later date.
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan (Vivarium) and written by Garret Shanley (Without Name), NOCEBO stars Eva Green (Casino Royale), Mark Strong (1917), Chai Fonacier (Jesus Is Dead) and Billie Gadsdon (Cruella).