Monday, July 10, 2023

Just a Spoonful of Nocebo

The filmmakers behind Vivarium team up with Eva Green? HOW QUICKLY CAN I WATCH THIS?

Quick Plot: Christine is an ultra chic fashion designer specializing in children's clothing with the support of marketing executive husband Felix and their bratty daughter Roberta ("Bogs" to those she likes). Upon launching a new line, Christine receives an ominous phone call at work about a mysterious disaster. As she takes in the news, a mangy dog appears out of nowhere, shaking his dirt out and tossing a tick straight at her neck.

A few months pass and Christine has been knocked down a few pegs, both professionally and personally. As she tries to piece her career back together, a stranger shows up claiming to be a nanny hired by the forgetful Christine. She cooks well and has some quick panic attack-fighting tricks, so despite some hesitancy, Christine and Felix decide to let her stay.

Diana is Mary Poppins by way of the Philippines, only, as you will figure out quite quickly, a supernanny with her own motives. Played by Chai Fonacier with a sweet smile and astounding confidence, Diana is the perfect interloper to the colder Felix and flighty Christine. You can feel the walls start to come down and it's a marvel to see how easy it feels in Diana's capable hands. 

Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium was one of my favorite watches a few years back, and it's a film that continues to grow on me whenever I think back on its themes and style. I came into Nocebo hearing fairly underwhelming reviews from the horror community and unfortunately, I can see why. This is a good film, and one made all the better by the playful performance of Fonacier and the utter perfection that is and has always been Eva Green. But there's a fundamental flaw to the storytelling that will require some spoilers to suss out.

Here's the thing that puzzled me about Nocebo: was I supposed to be surprised? Garret Shanley's script doesn't come out and tell us what caused Christine's initial breakdown, but it feels incredibly obvious 10 minutes in based on the very clear clues. Likewise, without knowing a single thing about Nocebo other than "possible evil nanny movie", I could tell you that Diana must have lost a child in the same tragedy that destroyed Christine's brand. 

This would be fine if the film had more to say or do after the revelation, but, well, it mostly doesn't. As the audience, we're challenged to figure out where our loyalty lies but by the time we reach the 'reveal,' it's hard (I hope) for anyone to still trust Christine as the victim. Overall, while there's a lot to admire about a film that takes a clear stand against inhumane labor conditions, the actual story in front of us just doesn't connect as well as it could without any real element of surprise. 

High Points
Praise Morpheus! I will highly celebrate positive CPAP representation on film, something usually thrown in as a joke. But if EVA GREEN can use one, I don't feel so bad 

Low Points
Aforementioned odd lack of story suspense

Lessons Learned
Medication is great and all but have you ever just tried tickling to reduce panic attacks?

The brattier the kid, the meaner the bullies

Never give a child model chocolate before a shoot

I'm right down the middle on Nocebo. Chai Fonacier is a find, and Eva Green is, as always, incredibly watchable (especially here, where she gets to find complicated notes). But in the end, there's just not much there once you figure out what the film is saying (and there's a good chance you'll do that in the first reel). I'll be curious to know if others have the same challenges, so if you do catch the film (streaming now on Shudder) please stop by and share!


  1. Drat, this is disappointing! I'm fully with you re: Vivarium, I loved it and am constantly telling others to check it out, so I was pumped as soon as you mentioned Nocebo was from the same creative team. In all likelihood I don't think I will check it out now though -- there are already too many films I really want to see and not enough time for them, so I have a hard time making myself watch anything I'm not fully keen on checking out. Here's hoping their next one will be back up on par with Vivarium (which is really a tall, unfair thing to ask of them, I suppose).

    Btw while writing this I'm noticing the list of tags for your (MANY) other posts, and see there are 9 (!!) tags for 90210, and 5 for 28 Days Later. I lol'd at the first one, and wondered if I should revisit the second one since I wasn't wow'd by it but was also distracted when I saw it.

    1. It's tough, because this isn't a BAD movie at all, and I think it's worth a watch, but you're totally right: time is short, and it's tough to knowingly give 100 minutes away to something that won't be satisfying.

      And yes, that sounds about right that 90210 would trump one of the most influential horror movies in my mind! But also, I ADORE 28 Weeks Later, even more so than Days. I think it makes so many smart decisions, and also works as just a damn well-paced scary action movie. I'll be curious if you get around to watching it again.THAT's a recommend!

  2. Very much agreed. I saw Nocebo earlier this year and I'm not at all sorry I did, for many of the same reasons you mentioned, but it ultimately fell short for me.

    Overall, it's a movie that would have benefited from a lot - like, a *lot* - more subtlety and ambiguity. For example, in addition to the way it telegraphed plot points from the outset (to the degree that I'd call it a movie that spoils itself, which is disappointing), I thought the tick metaphor was poorly handled. I mean, it's a great metaphor! I like metaphors! But they should stay metaphors, not be spelled out literally. It just ended up feeling really heavy-handed, and it would have been so much more effective to let the viewer make that connection on their own.

    I genuinely think there's a 9/10 movie lurking in there somewhere; but, despite its strengths, I came away from it feeling underwhelmed, unfortunately.

    1. It's just so strange how they tease but tell the backstory. Considering its true story roots, I wonder if the filmmakers were just really committed to capturing that, and ended up just giving us too much detail too early on. I agree about the 9/10 point: had the film started in a clear way that put us fully in Eva Green's camp (which isn't hard! It's Eva Green!) then there could have been a great, layered rug pull when we discover what she did. But we piece it together in the first half hour! Gar, it's a shame!

  3. I watched it, knowing nothing, but yeah... caught on right away. Someone mentioned 'heavy handed' and I concur... despite all the good elements it was a bit of a drag to the finish.
    I found myself remembering all those old Tales From The Crypt style stories where the selfish/greedy/vile folks get their comeuppance... but those were generally much more fun to watch, as was the relatively recent movie Slaxx, which kicked at issues similar to Nocebo's.

    1. Yes! I didn't even make the Slaxx connection, but you're so right. Also, Slaxx is barely 75 minutes and those TFtC episodes are 30, which tells you something. It's a clear, straitforward comeuppance and the running time really dragged it down.