I don’t know whether it was the 2.00am start, the fact that I’d just finished The Haunting of Bly Manor, or that I was absolutely shattered after a long, hard days work, but Blumhouse’s newest entry into the Welcome to the Blumhouse canon creeped up on me like a faceless lady wandering mindlessly around a old English stately home.
After watching Black Box a couple of weeks ago and coming out somewhat underwhelmed but its made-for-television aesthetic and inconsistent and half-baked plot, I had started to wonder whether I’d made the wrong choice in what to watch. I’ve since checked out The Lie (which was the other option that night) on Amazon Prime and came away figuring that Black Box probably was the better of the two. This whole experience left me somewhat apprehensive about Nocturne, my choice for last night’s virtual premiere. I could have checked out Evil Eye instead, but Nocturne, written and directed by Zu Quirke, looked the more interesting option.
Still, I can’t say I was expecting much. As I said, I’ve already been left underwhelmed by this series, and so part of me was assuming I’d be met with yet another not-good-enough-for-cinema-release offering. So, I was pleasantly surprised when it actually did sort of unsettle me.
Let’s be clear, it isn’t perfect. Playing out like a sort of schlocky rendition of Black Swan set in a classical music school, Nocturne stumbles along, never entirely sure what to do with its admittedly intriguing premise. The concept of passion, obsession, possession and the like is right up my street, so I’ll hold my hand up now and say I’m somewhat biased. But even though it suffers from long stretches of dullness and an inability to effectively use what could be a genuinely frightening image of a dead girl to its advantage, the typical, now almost formulaic, Blumhouse approach of jump scares and sudden loud music stingers were enough to keep me entertained, while the subtler aspects of a slow decent into obsession and madness were enough to keep me engaged.
Much like Black Box before it, Nocturne definitely suffers from that kind of horrible made-for-television feel. There are things here that just look cheap and, as a result, cheapen their impact (hello aforementioned dead girl), but there is also enough meat to the concept that it never feels like its overcomplicating itself or getting itself tangled in a mess of plot holes and inconsistencies in the way I felt with Black Box.
The lead performance, but star Sydney Sweeney, is solid. She manages to capture that sense of bubbling resentment, frustration, and a longing for something more, incredibly well. Given recent events surrounding the arts here in the UK, as well, there is something to be said about a film that acknowledges just how important art can be to some people, and how, so often as it is, unflinchingly cruel, unfair, and miserable pursuing your dreams can be.
The story revolves around Sweeney’s Juliet, a shy music student who lacks the confidence, bravado, and talent of her twin sister, Vivian (played by Madison Iseman), despite her willingness to put in more work, and her obvious passion for the subject. For Juliet music isn’t just a thing she does for fun, it is her calling and her entire reason for being, and that kind of devotion to an art speaks to me. When Juliet discovers a mysterious notebook belonging to a classmate who recently committed suicide by throwing herself out a window, things take a more genre-like turn as our protagonist starts to experience strange visions, bizarre goings on, and begins to change in a far more outspoken, brash, and almost arrogant individual.
Whether or not any of this is real or is simply the result of a mind so consumed by obsession and desire is left somewhat ambiguous, and although the ending was so obvious as to be almost pointless, the journey to get there had just enough twists, turns, interesting moments, and engaging performances to keep me watching.
Of the three Welcome to the Blumhouse projects I’ve seen so far, Nocturne is easily my favorite. It may not be entirely successful in its attempts to portray the struggles of those of us who do see certain artforms as a calling, but it is smart enough to offer up plenty of distraction in the form of weird imagery and ghost-train style scares here and there to paper over those cracks.
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity, however, is the way in which the film lands on what could be a truly chilling and thoughtful ending before undermining it with the more obvious and schlocky one. In a way that small issue is a microcosm of the movie as a whole. An enjoyable but predictable experience that is so close to being so much more than it ultimately is.
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