WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE: NOCTURNE (2020)
Directed & written by Zu Quirke
Starring Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon, Ivan Shaw, Julie Benz, Rodney To, JoNell Kennedy, John Rothman, Brandon Keener, Miles McKenna, Stephon Fuller, A.J. Tannen, Ji Eun Hwang, Asia Jackson, Phillip Wampler
I reviewed the first two WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE installments when they were released last fall, and because BLACK BOX and THE LIE left me so cold, I really was in no rush to check out the final two films released on Amazon Prime under the Welcome to the Blumhouse banner. After watching the EVIL EYE trailer, I was left pretty uninterested in the low stakes and plot revelations, but NOCTURNE seemed intriguing. So I checked it out and surprisingly, I was left entertained. At least, much more than the first two lame efforts I reviewed a while back.
Sydney Sweeney plays Juliet, fraternal twin of Vivian (Madison Iseman), who is somewhat envious of Vivian’s success as a concert pianist. While Vivian is set to attend Julliard in the fall, while Juliet has yet to find a school interested in her. When a young violin soloist named Moira (Ji Eun Hwang) leaps from her balcony to her death, it leaves a hole in the big Spring performance—a hole Vivian feels she is a shoe-in to fill. But when Juliet finds Moira’s old notebook filled with occult drawings and incantations, she finds her confidence and skill inexplicably growing, prompting her to compete with her sister for the lead soloist. Turns out, Moira make a deal with dark forces in order to attain her musical achievements which cost her—her life, and Juliet looks to be following the same fateful path.
Yes, if you’ve seen SUSPIRIA, its remake, and BLACK SWAN, you’re not really going to be surprised with this Faustian tale of achieving dark desires for a price. In fact, this is an extremely predictable film if you’ve seen movies of this kind before. The beginning shows us Moira playing her violin and then committing suicide. As we find out Juliet is following the same path as Moira, it’s already played out what the eventual outcome most likely will be. Now the film could play off of those expectations and end with something altogether different, but for the most part, we know a lot of what’s about to happen before the lead character does. Because of this, in order to keep things interesting, other factors have to come into play.
Luckily for NOCTURNE, there’s a lot to this film that makes it worth sitting through despite the predictable plot. Sweeney is entrancing as Juliet. She’s a fantastic young actress, able to convey sympathy even while she is being overcome with jealousy and strife towards her sister. Her heavy-lidded eyes are pretty fantastic at conveying a myriad of emotions without a word and much of this film does a great job of shutting up and letting the actors and the music speak volumes more than the script does. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Sweeney as she really does elevate the material with her nuanced performance.
I also loved the magic of NOCTURNE. It’s not overly flashy or artsy, though there are some vivid dream sequences that are reminiscent of the bold colors of Argento’s original SUSPIRIA. For the most part, though, the magic is conveyed through some rough sketches in a notebook and the vivid way the scenes of playing the music is portrayed. Cuts of Juliet being transported elsewhere to some kind of dream realm interspersed with her playing the piano are done marvelously well. I also love the way this film depicts the artist going into a sort of fugue state while getting into the flow of the music. All of it shows an understanding of how art and music works and adds to the passion Moira, Juliet, and Vivian feel for their work.
Sure, I had an idea where this film was leading, but writer/director Zu Quirke manages to add some surprises along the way and even ends on a note that proves to be visually captivating nevertheless. NOCTURNE might have a very familiar story that follows the Faustian deal to a tee, but with a compelling lead, a solid understanding of how art is made, and some measured, yet creative uses of its treatment of magic and the occult made it much better than the rest of the films released in this Welcome to the Blumhouse series. If you’re going to take a chance on any of these films from Blumhouse, NOCTURNE is the one to see.