Premiering online as part of Amazon Prime Video’s Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology series, this supernatural horror film initially feels like a gratuitous cover version of Black Swan. But in time, writer-director Zu Quirke makes Nocturne‘s antiheroine compelling enough to turn the film into something a little more substantial.
Quirke’s film begins with a teenage violinist playing a few bars, putting down her instrument, then calmly stepping outside to jump from a ledge. It turns out she was Moira Wilson (Ji Eun Hwang), top student at a fancy classical musical school, and her suicide makes space for gifted pianist Vivian Lowe (Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle‘s Madison Iseman) to take a prestigious solo spot at the end-of-year recital.
Vivian’s talent has already won her a place at Juilliard, the world-famous performing arts conservatory in New York, but her twin sister Juliet (Euphoria‘s Sydney Sweeney) was turned down at the same time. Juliet lacks her sister’s social confidence as well as her college offer, but her fortunes change when she discovers a notebook used by Moira Wilson right before she died. Filled with cryptic illustrations and darkly evocative words like “sacrifice” and “invocation”, it first gives Juliet nightmares, then seems to foretell incidents that play overwhelmingly to her advantage. When Vivian fractures her arm in a freak accident – one partly caused by a sibling fight – Juliet inherits her sister’s recital solo.
Though Juliet’s mission to eclipse her injured sister unfolds in fairly predictable ways – once she’s bagged her brooding personal tutor Henry (Ivan Shaw), it’s obvious boyfriend Max (Jacques Colimon) will be next – Sweeney’s measured performance helps to keep her interesting. Juliet is ruthless, callous and increasingly frenzied, but the crippling jealousy she feels towards her sister always feels authentic. It’s a shame most of the film’s minor characters are so dull: Max is never given much of a personality and Dexter’s Julie Benz is squandered as the girls’ bland and unconvincing mother.
Some of Quirke’s frights feel trite – the red shock of menstrual blood is deployed cheaply a couple of times – but elsewhere, she creates effective scares by cleverly subverting our expectations of how a scene will play out. Nocturne’s high-stakes climax is genuinely unsettling and suspenseful, making it a horror film that’s worth sticking with despite its flaws.
- Director: Zu Quirke
- Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Jacques Colimon, Ji Eun Hwang
- Release date: October 13 (Amazon Prime Video)