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‘Nocebo’ review: Suspenseful mix of trauma and folk magic

Facing the past.

Nocebo is a psychological thriller that plays with what people are willing to believe and what they would rather ignore. Christine (Eva Green, Penny Dreadful) is a fashion designer who suddenly becomes sick with a mysterious illness. One day, a Filipino nanny named Diana (Chai Fonacier) arrives unexpectedly. She soon endears herself to Christine by using traditional folk healing to help her. But does Diana have a deeper motive than just curing her new employer?

Things begin with a cold open that takes place eight months before the actual movie. It is quickly established that Christine is a strong woman. Not only is she doing well professionally, a brief somewhat playful exchange with her husband (Mark Strong) shows that she is in control at home, also. She is not painted as a domineering figure of the household. It is more in her attitude and persona. It is clear she never does things simply because someone tells her she has to.

Her attitude remains the same even after she becomes ill. She is prone to shakes and may become physically exhausted quicker, but she still possesses the same demeanor. The is also true of Diana. She speaks with a softer tone and is shorter, but she is never meek or even at a disadvantage. Nocebo is a subtle battle of strong wills. There is no open hostility between the two, but control always looms in the background.

This is another theme of Nocebo. Some instances are more obvious than others, but almost every interaction comes down to who is in charge. This idea also feeds into the larger narrative as a decision made by someone with power took away choice from those who had little agency. The writing integrates this smoothly into the film, so much so that it is only after everything has concluded that audiences will see the bigger picture.

While there are deep ideas at play, the movie also has its share of visceral moments. These are well spaced out and never take away from the suspense the script works at building. (There is a moment involving a giant bug that seems out of place, however.) Since the disturbing imagery is carefully used, each one has maximum impact. This is most noticeable during the closing moments when things become more chaotic.

Nocebo is a suspenseful film that will have audiences constantly wondering what is real and what is imagined. Even the concept of good and bad are left blurred by the end. The story is somewhat predictable, but is also not the focal point. Director Lorcan Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley (the two worked together on Vivarium) have crafted a tale that is about loss, remorse, and denial.

Nocebo is in theaters November 4 and on VOD November 22

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