NOCEBO movie poster | ©2022 RLJE Entertainment

NOCEBO movie poster | ©2022 RLJE Entertainment

Rating: Not rated
Stars: Eva Green, Mark Strong, Chai Fonacier, Billie Gadson
Writer: Garret Shanley
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Distributor: RLJE Entertainment
Release Date: November 4, 2022 (theatrical); November 22, 2022 (on demand and digital)

NOCEBO is a remarkably good horror film that pulls off two difficult tasks. First, it successfully keeps us engrossed and in suspense as to exactly what will happen, even when we work out what’s happening and why. Second, it plays with our sympathies to a degree that is seldom achievable.

When we meet Christine (Eva Green), she’s happy in everything. She’s in a loving marriage with husband Felix (Mark Strong), they have a charming, bright little girl Roberta (Billie Gadson), and a huge, multi-story mansion.

Christine also enjoys her successful career as a children’s clothing designer. But one day, in the middle of a children’s fashion show, Christine has to go to a private area to take a deeply disturbing phone call.

At the same time, Christine sees a blind dog, covered in parasites. The dog shakes itself, spraying parasites around the room. One of these burrows into the back of Christine’s neck.

Eight months later, Christine is in poor health, mentally and physically. She suffers night terrors, memory loss, muscle spasms and more.

At first, we think either Felix or Roberta must have died, but no, they’re fine. So, what’s the matter with Christine?

Then, like Mary Poppins, Diana (Chai Fonacier) appears at the door. She’s from the Philippines and she says she’s here to help Christine. Christine doesn’t remember hiring anyone, but chalks this up to her extreme confusion.

And Diana does help, repeatedly, using different techniques to get rid of Christine’s pain, fatigue and brain fog. Diana insists that she’s going to aid Christine in confronting what’s wrong with her. Meanwhile, Diana also cooks, cleans, and excels at all the regular tasks of a live-in housekeeper.

Felix doesn’t trust Diana, but lonely Roberta gradually warms to the newcomer. When Christine asks how Diana is able to render help when no one and nothing else does, Diana describes, in flashbacks to her childhood, how she came to have great powers of both healing and destruction.

As NOCEBO progresses, we get further and longer flashbacks to Diana’s life in the Philippines. These will be revelatory to some viewers; others, depending on what they pay attention to in the real world, will have surmised far earlier exactly why Diana has come to Christine.

Either way, both Green and Fonacier are tremendously moving, yet able to alienate or terrify us in moments where their characters exercise their very different types of forcefulness.

NOCEBO was filmed both in Ireland – which appears to be standing in for England – and the Philippines. Director Lorcan Finnegan makes the most of the contrast between the isolated spaces of the former and the crowded cityscapes of the latter.

In NOCEBO, Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley ably convey not only the horror but the wonder of magic. They also create a structure that is complex yet easy to follow, taking us on a journey that is both morally challenging and engrossing.

By the end, NOCEBO emerges as a horror film that induces real dread and real emotion, with something to say a horrifying real-world subject.

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