After her home life and career are derailed by a calamity that literally knocks her off her ‘lucky shoes’, a mystery illness afflicts chic Christine (Eva Green), an affluent designer of children’s fashions.She suffers memory lapses, nerve spasms, hair-loss and other symptoms her husband (Mark Strong) takes to be psychosomatic – but which followers of horror films who note the ominous shadows about her home might well diagnose as a curse.
At her door appears Diana (Chai Fonacier), an unassuming au pair Christine has apparently summoned from the Philippines but forgotten about. Like a radical reboot of Mary Poppins, the woman turns out to wonder with Christine’s neglected daughter (Billie Gadsdon) and an alternative healer whose witchy ways assauge her ills. However, is the new nanny also a cuckoo in the nest? And what exactly made Christine collapse in the first place?
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, of the ghost story Without Name and the Twilight Zone-ish Vivarium (plus the outstanding Irish short film Foxes), and written by Garret Shanley, the oddly-titled Nocebo is a psychological/supernatural horror story with editorial content.
From the first, it drops hints (‘they’re pulling out bodies?’) about a backstory that connects wealthy Western protagonist Christine with Filipina witch-woman Diana. An effective take of a mystic blight falling on a complacent household is entwined with a drawn-from-the-headlines all-too-real horror in a way that does shift from unsettling, complicated drama – Diana is a fascinating character, sometimes scary, sometimes sympathetic, and unambiguously a witch – into slightly on-the-nose melodrama. Green, as good as she’s ever been while cracking up, is one-note in a flashback scene which maybe tips the film’s hand too much.
Finnegan is building a considerable CV as an Irish genre auteur – though Nocebo is shot in Dublin but seems not to be set there – and this is his most mainstream, approachable picture yet.