October 13, 2020 Nocturne (Amazon Original Movie Review)
Music is a blood sport in Blumhouse Television’s Nocturne, an Amazon Original that arrives on Prime Video on Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
Following on the heels of last week’s Black Box, Blumhouse is back with Nocturne. Written and directed by Zu Quirke (Wight short 2015, Ghosting short 2016), this Faustian tale centers around twin sisters Juliet (Sydney Sweeney: The Handmaid’s Tale series, Euphoria series) and Vivian (Madison Iseman: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 2017, Annabelle Comes Home 2019). At the elite arts academy where the twins study, tensions are running high when a star student takes her own life, thereby vacating the coveted solo slot in the school’s upcoming musical showcase.
Once loving “wombies,” the twins, each a gifted Classical pianist, have recently seen a serious decline in their relationship. This only gets worse when Juliet randomly comes into contact with a mysterious notebook which leads her down an increasingly troubling path. But once she somewhat unwittingly strikes a Faustian bargain, she can’t turn back until the very last note has been played.
Nocturne also features the acting talents of Jacques Colimon (The Society series, Into the Dark series), Ivan Shaw (Insecure series, Casual series), Rodney To (Parks and Recreation series, Barry series), JoNell Kennedy (Dreamgirls 2006, NCIS: Los Angeles series), John Rothman (Ghostbusters 1984, Gettysburg 1993), Ji Eun Hwang, and more.
With notes of 2019’s The Perfection, 2020’s The Sonata, and to a far lesser degree, 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate, Nocturne is a delicate blend of Thriller, Horror, and Mystery with some haunting psychological elements. Never heavy on blood or violence, the film is nuanced in its artful and aesthetically-pleasing approach to what is best deemed a Thriller.
Though Nocturne is a fairly derivative story, it’s one that has not been approached quite like this in recent years. Placing its main characters in an elite high school, and making them twins to boot, adds an organic tension before any devilish deals enter the picture. The key word here is ‘nuanced,’ as nothing within the film is ever blatant; even Juliet’s devolving mental state is merely implied. That said, Quirke’s careful approach to the material, along with talented leading lady Sweeney’s emotional performance, creates a film that is at least enjoyable, if lacking in inspired originality.
Again, it is Sweeney’s performance, and not jump-scares or gore, that holds the audience in thrall. Depicting a young woman who has spent her entire life in her elder twin’s shadow, the actress is careful to keep her Juliet meek and soft-spoken. Wide-eyed, with a certain naivete of life, Sweeney’s Juliet believes that hard work and dedication will bring her to the top of a field that is, sadly, a dying art.
Clinging to her need to rise above Vivian’s seemingly innate talents, Juliet refuses to accept anything less than the best. Thus, when she finally plunges headlong down the rabbit hole, she falls hard. Depicting this, Sweeney tiptoes like a ballerina, cautiously evolving her character in an effort to maintain our empathy throughout. Conversely, though her twin is never an obvious villain, we lack this concern for Iseman’s Vivian, a world-weary woman who barely seems to appreciate her God-given talents.
Despite its obvious themes, at 90 minutes, Nocturne is succinct enough to remain entertaining and smoothly-paced throughout. Quirke has an innate ability to keep the story moving, never pausing to mire her viewers in extraneous details, which allows her carefully-crafted, ominous mood to pervade. Though this leaves many of her characters flat, it also forces moviegoers to focus almost solely on Sweeney’s Juliet. But this is her swan song, and therefore appropriate to the story that’s being told. And as with all Faustian tales, Nocturne offers its viewers a lesson—if they are willing to embrace it. For all of this, Cryptic Rock gives Nocturne 4 of 5 stars.