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Film Review: With Riveting Storytelling, “Nocebo” Overcomes Horror Conventions

Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 3rd, 2022

Film poster: “Nocebo”

Nocebo (Lorcan Finnegan, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.

Premiering just after the Halloween season is Nocebo, a horror thriller from director Lorcan Finnegan. It’s a story about a woman whose seemingly hospitable new caretaker has deadly secrets waiting to be unveiled. Fashion designer Christine (Eva Green, Dumbo) starts to experience an overwhelming illness, untreatable by doctors, affecting her relationships with husband Felix (Mark Strong, Shazam!) and daughter Roberta (Billie Gadsdon, Cruella), aka “Bobs.” When a mysterious nurse, Diana (Chai Fonacier, Write About Love), arrives and is able to seamlessly take the pain away, Christine believes she has found the perfect person to treat her. But what starts as miracle soon becomes a deadly game.

Finnegan’s strengths are found in his storytelling. He weaves a mystifying narrative once Diana is introduced and continues down a path that leaves the viewer guessing. Nocebo is very conservative in its use of horror conventions, with but a few key terrifying images, and never features cheap scare tactics to portray fear. Rather, the film is carried by stellar performances from Fonacier and Green, as well as clever writing overall. In many ways, the movie finds itself as much drama as it is thriller. Furthermore, the messages on the powers (or lack thereof?) of medicine on the mind and body serve for a great social commentary.

Chai Fonacier in NOCEBO ©RLJE Films/Shudder

While Nocebo thrives in some aspects of storytelling, as a work of horror it feels as if something is missing to take it to the next level. For starters, the film takes its time getting to the point, and many deliberately slow sequences only delay our arrival at the core of the narrative. But once the film shows us where it’s going, it turns out Nocebo runs out of ways to wrap up what is otherwise a terrifying experience.

Though Finnegan’s film may seem generic as it reaches the finale, Nocebo nevertheless succeeds in making the viewer question the effect of medicine—both modern and traditional—on the human condition. Utilizing medical practices as a delusionary weapon is truly a unique horror/thriller convention that Finnegan wields efficiently, and the performances of Green, Strong, and Fonacier create a triad of characters caught in a battle of wits. The movie’s conclusion may not be what you’re looking for, but Nocebo certainly has at least one fresh idea to contribute to the horror/thriller genre.

Eva Green in NOCEBO ©RLJE Films/Shudder

Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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