Nocebo – Film Review
by Frank L.
Directed – Lorcan Finnegan
Stars – Eva Green, Mark Strong, Chai Fonacier
Lorcan Finnegan follows his perturbing 2019 film Vivarium by also entitling his new film with a single word which is out of the ordinary. In this case, it is “Nocebo” which is the opposite of the more commonly used term “placebo” and has a definition “a harmless substance or treatment that when taken by or administered to a patient is associated with harmful side effects or worsening of symptoms due to negative expectations or the psychological condition of the patient” (Merriam-Webster).
Christine (Eva Green) is a successful child fashion designer who lives with her husband Felix (Mark Strong) and her stroppy kid daughter Roberta (Bilie Gadsdon) in a smartly restored Victorian house of generous proportions. On the surface, Christine has it all, but she is troubled. Something ails her and chewing pills does not help. Then out of the blue, there arrives on her doorstep Diana (Chai Fonacier), who comes from the Philippines and says upfront to Christine that she has come to help her. Christine welcomes this stranger into her house but as a result, a new dynamic develops between Christine and her family. Each of them develops a relationship with Diana whose past is overlain with work in a sweatshop in the rag trade in the Philippines. It is a world very distant in appearance from the glamorous showrooms where Christine’s clothes are displayed on cute-looking children.
Green has to play the part of a successful designer who is in mental and physical turmoil and this complex role she plays with authority. Strong gives a fine performance as a regular guy who is there to support his wife. Billie has a tricky role to play as her loyalties start to switch from her mother Christine to Diana and she does so with some considerable skill. Meanwhile, it is the smiling, quietly spoken Fonacier as Diana who mysteriously has control and creates the unsettling and disturbing situations which come to dominate the storyline.
Finnegan uses the fine Victorian architecture of Rathgar to depict suburban London. It looks suitably opulent and stands in sharp contrast to a sweatshop in the Philippines. Finnegan brings these two disparate worlds together in a horror movie with kids’ fashion as the backdrop. This juxtaposition of this world with the exploitative nature of the supply lines in the fashion industry makes for a discomforting film. Perhaps that discomfort diminishes the various disturbing incidents which afflict Christine as she battles her various disabilities. It is a stylish and thoughtful film which notwithstanding being a horror movie makes a political point about the inequities which underlie the contemporary world of fashion and indeed much of the Western economy.