The first 15 minutes of “Nocebo” could serve as a summary for the film. When we meet Christine (Eva Green), she is a successful English fashion designer for children’s clothes. At work one day, she receives a troubling phone call. Even though we can’t hear what she’s being told, the contortions of fright on her face tell us she’s receiving horrific news. Compounding the scenario, is a tick infested dog that wanders into the office building, staring at her with blind milky eyes. The film cuts to months later, where Christine is sick at home, suffering from an unknown illness and struggling to find work. That’s when Diana (Chai Fonacier), a Filipino woman, knocks on the door.
“Nocebo” effectively draws you in, making you wonder why a tick infested dog is in an office building, haunting Christine after she receives presumably terrible news over the phone. Diana’s entrance serves as an even stranger rabbit hole to stumble down because she says Christine has summoned her, even though Christine doesn’t remember this and her husband Felix (Mark Strong) is equally suspicious. Unfortunately I’ve watched enough horror films to deduce what’s going on and the rest of the movie just serves as an exercise in style over substance.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing when your movies are predictable because inherently a lot of films can be figured out through a very analytical lens. The problem with “Nocebo” is it doesn’t do anything new with it’s folk horror cliches and instead kind of drifts towards the predicted ending without any kind of red herrings or diversions that make you second guess the nature of the film. That being said, “Nocebo” does work in some surprising ways, mainly atmosphere and acting.
While there are no jump scares, “Nocebo” creeps around Christine’s house as Christine works with Diana and Felix watches suspiciously in the background. In these instances, it’s fascinating watching the perception of Christine’s reality change, and it helps that Green ravenously gnaws on scenery with wild hunger. Green is like a female Nicolas Cage, the movie she’s in is immediately elevated simply by her presence and willingness to immerse herself in even the most absurd stories, plotlines or scenarios. “Nocebo” would effectively be weaker without Green penetrating every scene with her acting chops.
Ultimately the film feels more telegraphed rather than a natural flow. “Nocebo” has the right ingredients, but director Lorcan Finnegan can’t combine them all into a cohesive treat. At times I found myself unable to look away from “Nocebo” while at other times the itch to look at my phone creeped into the back of my mind.