FILM REVIEW: NOCTURNE is a welcome call-back to the madness of the performance artist horror subgenre.


NOCTURNE invokes films like Suspiria, The Perfection, and Black Swan in this tale of how far an ugly duckling pianist will go to outshine her gifted fraternal twin in this engaging horror film.

I’m a big fan of the artist-driven to the edge of madness subgenre of horror films. The kind of film where someone dedicated themselves wholly to a craft or study at the expense of any social outlet or outer life from their dedication tends to align well with the nunsploitation genre; one where this makes the protagonist simultaneously a victim of their initiation and the possible dark knowledge they come across and the antagonist in getting back at those who have wronged them along their path. You can see this in the Suspiria remake with its cloistered dance studio and its invocation of a coven in comparison. You can see this in Black Swan where Natalie Portman’s character struggles against being mediocre by battling against her own dark repression given form. NOCTURNE, the latest entry in Amazon’s WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE, directed by Zu Quirke in her feature debut, follows a pair of fraternal twins in Jules (Sydney Sweeney) and Vi (Madison Iseman) who both attend a prestigious arts high school. Vi is seen as the most talented of the two; she has received an early acceptance to Julliard, is very popular, and seems to have a life outside of school. Jules is the ugly duckling, she works hard, but even her teachers only see her as a potential music teacher or accompanist, because she doesn’t play like the devil is at her back. She only applied to Julliard and was rejected, so she has no options once she graduates. Her sister takes advantage of her at most turns and just treats her as a reluctant friend, “her wombie.” The school holds a prestigious senior concerto every year, but that year’s senior piano soloist has committed suicide, which allows both sisters a chance to shine one last time. Along the way, Jules finds the music book which belonged to Moira and begins to feel as if it is speaking to her and presenting a dark path for her to follow; even if the path is at the expense of her family, her studies, and ultimately, her very soul.

Quirke directs the film with a very dramatic style, utilizing some really great lighting and angles throughout. The film works primarily because of Sweeney’s performance. Nocturne is a great showcase for her acting ability; where she says more in a look or a pout than pans into her. Her interactions with Moira’s notebook often come across as a Joan of Arc meets Midsommar mushroom-induced religious fever dream and those, by far, are the strongest scenes in the film. The confrontations that Sweeney and Iseman have are also very well-executed and tense. You can see the haughty superiority that Vi has over Jules and the desire to prove herself that Jules has as akin to the relationship between the leads in Black Swan and The Perfection.

The kind of x component in the film is the would-be supernatural angle the film has as its driving force. You can watch the film and it is left open to impression whether there is a supernatural force driving the events of the film, or if it is a combination of Jules’ growing madness and despair taking shape and ascribing that to the forces in her notebook. The film’s ending is very nebulous in this viewer’s opinion as to what happens, and unfortunately, both options are somewhat unsatisfying in their execution aside from creating cool visuals. It can be taken figuratively that Jules achieves her goals at the expense of herself. That being said, the film is very visually stunning, albeit derivative of other films, as have many of the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE entries, but NOCTURNE is the most rewatchable by far. It reminds one of the Suspiria remake in terms of a beautifully shot film with some great setpieces, but one with a muddled storyline with uninteresting side characters. But solid performances make this my favorite of the four entries and one definitely worth checking out.

– 2 out of 5 stars
A fairly good horror movie with a standout performance in Sweeney with stylish directing but somewhat derivative.