Welcome to the Blumhouse has been a mixed bag of tricks and treats. Black Box and Evil Eye both struggled to stretch their promising premises to a feature runtime. The Lie was a thoroughly disturbing ride, despite its far-fetched ending. Four more films are still on the horizon, but Nocturne is this series’ best entry so far. The cinematography is chilling, the atmosphere is haunting, and the use of lightning never fails to shed a shiver down your spine. It’s all tied together by a breakthrough feature directorial debut from Zu Quirke and a breakout lead performance from Sydney Sweeney.
Nocturne grips the audience from its opening scene as a talented young musician takes her life without explanation. The student’s dire fate is seemingly connected to her mysterious notebook, which is discovered by shy pianist Juliet (Sweeney). Juliet has always lived in the shadow of her twin sister Vivian (Madison Iseman). After the notebook falls into Juliet’s possession, she emerges as the academy’s rising star while misfortune befalls Vivian. The higher Juliet climbs, though, the price of perfection begins to take a toll on her.
Quirke’s style warrants comparison to the works of Darren Aronofsky, particularly Black Swan. Like that film, Nocturne resolves around a performer who may be losing her mind, a rival who may be out to get her, and an instructor who isn’t afraid to push his students to their limits. Even if it’s not on the same level as Black Swan, Nocturne doesn’t come off as overly familiar. Where Black Swan was shrouded in dark shadows, Juliet is frequently drawn towards a blinding light. Will that light lead her to enlightenment or her ultimate downfall? Not since Midsommar has the sun been so unnerving.
You might recognize Sweeney from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood where she played a member of the Manson family or HBO’s Euphoria where she plays Lexi’s sister. She turns in a radiant performance in Nocturne as an ambitious artist who is either going insane or selling her soul to the Devil. Sweeney makes Juliet’s transformation feel natural as she goes from timid second fiddle to a diva determined to be first chair. Anyone who’s ever strived to be the best in their respective field will empathize with Juliet’s frustration. At the root of that frustration is a sibling rivalry that isn’t afraid to take the audience to increasingly uncomfortable places. Outside of the more graphic moments, arguably the most shocking scene in the film involves Juliet, Vivian, and a chocolate cake.
Above all else, Nocturne is a genuinely creepy film that will get under your skin. Quirke has made a feat of visual storytelling with a final image that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Without delving into what happens, the ending leaves plenty to analyze and may even inspire a repeat viewing. Of course, one viewing will be enough for some, as a film this strange and unsettling won’t be for everybody. If you’re looking for a movie that will give you goosebumps this Halloween, though, Nocturne hits all of the right notes.
Nocturne releases on Amazon Prime on October 13.