Nocebo: Movie Review

Nocebo is a joint production of several Irish/British film studios with some support from the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). Starring Penny Dreadful‘s Eva Green, Kingsman‘s Mark Strong, and Philippine theater actress Chai Fonacier, its a psychological thriller that delves into the world of Filipino mysticism and Western capitalism.

Synopsis: Chrissy (Eva Green) is a well known children’s clothing designer who suffers from mental health issues. She hires Filipina housekeeper Diana (Chai Fonacier) who volunteers to help her with traditional medicine to cure her of her ailments. While the treatments seem to be working, Chrissy’s husband Felix (Mark Strong) is far from convinced that the new help could be trusted.

Nocebo does well in setting the stage of a successful woman coming to terms with a tragedy and is plagued by mental health issues. The opening scenes also effectively sets the stage for the supernatural elements of the movie.

All that is understandable but the first meeting between Diana and Chrissy, was very sus. Typically, when you meet a stranger, you don’t really welcome them into your home, especially when you don’t remember inviting them over. But this is precisely what Chrissy does. She welcomes Diana into her home with no questions asked, not even asking for her credentials, just setting her up in a room next to her home office as if its the most natural thing. If not for anything supernatural, one would think twice about doing the same for fear of burglars and other criminals preying on palatial home such as theirs.

Perhaps, my appreciation for the movie is amplified because I am Filipino and I am familiar with our own folklore that I recognize what the dog symbolizes, or nuances like dropping a spoon meaning having female guests arriving. I think its pretty cool that writers did their research. They did not simply gloss over the superficial elements of Philippine mythology to deliver a run off the mill horror. Also, my familiarity with rituals like kulam or barang (Filipino voodoo) gave me quite a scare every time Diana took anything of hers (blood, nails, pictures) that can be used to enchant her. Hats off to the filmmakers for being faithful to Philippine mystical origins.

Major credit goes to the trio of Eva Green, Chai Fonacier and Mark Strong for generating such a palpalable amount of tension with their intense game of manipulation and revenge. I loved how the story kept what happened during the phone call a secret to build up to a big reveal in the end. As each layer of the story unfolded, everything began to make sense.

The story was also able to tell the tragic backstory of Diana, who was pushed to desperation by poverty and injustice. A woman, who despite being ostracized all her life, was stripped of the only thing that brought her joy and had to rely on her own power to seek justice.

With this, its really hard to hate the character of Chai Fonacier even though she was creepy as heck from the first moment. She just kept audiences on their toes with her portrayal. There was a certain vulnerability in her performance that made audiences question whether or not she was a villain or a victim.

I had a few minor issues about Diana’s fluency in English if she was portrayed as coming from a poor family without a good education. Apart from the accent, her grammar was impeccable. Filipinos are pretty good at communicating in English, but not at the level of Diana without even training or studying. She was arguing with Felix without batting an eyelash, matching him word for word. And also, for those who are living below the minimum wage in the Philippines, its hard enough to survive the day to day expenses, but to save up enough to process a visa and airfare to the UK in just eight months is close to impossible.

The final resolution seemed sad but but it was justified. What needed to be done was done and the story tied together to the beginning.

It was a good film. It was deliberate in its quietness but director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garrett Shanley knew what they were doing and knew exactly where they wanted their film to go. Nocebo did not rely on cheap jump scares for a quick reaction but rather built up towards an ending that was well worth waiting an hour and a half for. Great acting, solid story, and brilliant execution, despite the obvious limitations in the budget. If you’re prone to nightmares, this may well be a trigger. You’ve been warned.