The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - NOCEBO | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - NOCEBO

A fashion designer succumbs to a mysterious ailment that only her housekeeper has the power to cure.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lorcan Finnegan

Starring: Eva Green, Chai Fonacier, Mark Strong

nocebo poster

Director Lorcan Finnegan's Nocebo is something of a rarity among modern mainstream horror movies. It's a heavily politicised horror movie that organically intertwines its politics with its horror. It's preachy, very much so, but not verbally in the manner of so many of its contemporaries. Its sermonising is done through its storytelling rather than through any clunky monologues, chiefly because its villain believes she's its heroine, and hopes you will too.

The casting of Eva Green as protagonist/antagonist Christine proves inspired. Green is one of the most likeable and charming actresses working today, so Finnegan instantly sets himself a challenge – can he make an audience find Eva Green unattractive, repulsive even?

nocebo review

Christine is a successful London based designer of fashion for kids. During a fashion show she receives a phone call that greatly upsets her. We're not treated to the full details, but Christine's muttering of "pulling out bodies…" suggests something terrible has occurred at one of the Asian sweatshops where her garments are constructed. Immediately after the phone call, Christine is approached by a mangy dog that looks like Dicky the Alsatian and his blind owner from Lucio Fulci's The Beyond have morphed into one nightmarish creature. The mutt is covered in ticks, which he shakes all over an appalled Christine, who immediately wakes up from what was apparently a day-nightmare. Not so, as one of the ticks is seen burrowing into the back of her neck.

In the weeks following the incident Christine turns into something of an emotional and physical wreck. She suffers from intense shakes, relies upon an oxygen mask to sleep at night and appears to intermittently lose her memory. The latter explains why she accepts the word of Diana (Chai Fonacier), a young Filipina who arrives at her door claiming Christine hired her to be a live-in housekeeper.

nocebo review

Diana's arrival will remind horror fans of Mrs Baylock, the creepy Mary Poppins figure played by Billie Whitelaw in Richard Donner's The Omen, who similarly arrives unannounced and begins working her devilry. It's but one of many nods to Donner's film peppered throughout Nocebo, but in this case we're ultimately rooting for the Devil. As we immediately expect from her unsettling presence (there's something indefinably disturbing in how Diana constantly repeats Christine's name), Diana doesn't have Christine's best interests at heart. When Diana temporarily cures Christine's shakes, she asks if she knows any other remedies. "I can help you Christine," she replies, "but only if you trust me." Thus, Christine allows herself to become the subject of Diana's witchcraft, much to the chagrin of Christine's husband Felix (Mark Strong). Meanwhile, Diana is also slowly ingratiating herself with the couple's young daughter Roberta (Billie Gadsdon).

Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley tease out Diana's backstory with flashbacks of her life in the Philippines, but the viewer will have put two and two together long before they unveil the number four. As the film progresses, our sympathies transfer from Christine (if they were ever aligned with her in the first place) to Diana. What's interesting about Christine is how blind she is to the suffering she's caused. Felix gives his wife the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that her ailments are the result of guilt. Yet Christine's reaction to her "recovery" in the hands of Diana suggest that's not the case, that her ailment isn't mental but physical – it's a dose of the flu and Diana has provided a warm bowl of chicken soup. Christine doesn't feel guilt because let's face it, none of us really do when it comes to how much suffering is caused by the lifestyle we've grown accustomed to in the Western world. We treat the labourers of Asia, Africa and Latin America with the same inhuman disregard 17th century consumers had for the slaves toiling in the Americas to keep them in cotton and coffee beans.

nocebo review

Finnegan puts us in the uncomfortable position of feeling contemptuous towards a villain whose actions we're entirely complicit with. He also takes a wry jab at capitalism's current hypocritical obsession with "diversity" and "inclusion," with Christine's employer (Cathy Belton) suggesting a photoshoot featuring "urban" and "South East Asian" children (North American and European brands and corporations love to fill their marketing campaigns with models who share the same ethnicities as the people they're exploiting in the rest of the world).

Nocebo subverts the old horror cliché of the troubled female protagonist and the cold-hearted, disbelieving husband. Felix is intensely unlikeable, particularly in his condescending attitude towards Diana, but unlike the hubbies of most women-in-peril horrors, he's the one who has things sussed. It's made clear that his marriage to Christine has outlived its expiration date, but he still wants what's best for her. In this case however this makes him complicit with the film's true evil. Felix never reveals this as such, but Finnegan's direction and Strong's performance make it clear that he knows what Diana is really up to and why his wife might be targeted by her. Even when confronting Diana he can't bring himself to say it out loud, because that would reveal his complicity. In Felix's uncomfortable silence we see a reflection of our own attitude towards our role in the exploitation of the Global South – if we don’t speak about it, maybe we won’t have to confront it.

Nocebo is on Netflix UK/ROI now.