Our Take: 3.5/5 Stars
With theatres around the country closed it seemed inevitable that one of the best parts of the fall season — an abundance of horror movies — would go unseen. Then Amazon Studios announced its collaboration with Blumhouse Productions and saved the day. Blumhouse is a pillar in the horror film industry, and set the modern horror movie standard with “Paranormal Activity.”
Now, the studio is producing a four-part curated collection of horror films to be released this October, “Welcome to the Blumhouse.” The first film in the series is “Nocturne,” a supernatural thriller exploring a young musician’s faustian pact with an unknown power. “Nocturne,” which sets a strong precedent for the following films, is available on Amazon Prime Oct. 13.
The film is writer and director Zu Quike’s first feature length production. Quirke’s previous work is made up of several short horror films, including “Ghosting” and “Tiny Bible”.This portfolio shines through to “Nocturne” — though the film has a runtime of 90 minutes its fast tempoed and feels much shorter.
Set presumably in southern California, the movie stars Sydney Sweeny (“Sharp Objects”) as Juliet, the less attractive, less talented and less outgoing twin to Madison Iseman’s (“Annabelle Comes Home”) Vivian. Juliet and Vivian both seniors at a fine arts boarding school where they play piano. Vivian has been accepted to Julliard and is revered by teachers and students alike for her talent. Juliet, who was passed over by the same school, lives in her shadow and grows to resent it.
When Juliet finds a journal of mysterious but sinister origin, her luck begins to change. The pages of the journal are filled with detailed and unnerving pen sketches and handwritten sheet music.
When Juliet performs one of the pieces her sister’s handsome instructor Henry (Ivan Shaw, “Insecure”) informs her is Guisseppe Tartini’s sonata “The Devil’s Trill.” Written after the composer supposedly saw the devil at the foot of his bed the song sets off a terrifying but intoxicating series of events that upturn Juliet’s life.
Suddenly, she plays as well as her sister, she is invited to parties, her sister’s instructor takes an interest in tutoring her and she is in the running for the coveted senior solo at the end of the year. It all really is too good to be true.
“Nocturne” features many hallmarks of the genre, like small cast and limited setting, which allow for cheaper production and affords studios to take bigger risks. This only benefits the film. Its small world and remote setting allow the viewer to easily become engrossed in the simple plot. A remote elite school in the Calfiornian mountains gives the movie a cultish vibe, and no contact with the outside world lends a certain plausibility.
Trading in gore and jump scares, “Nocturne” torments viewers with suspense. It is not hard to figure out what is going to happen, per say, but the slow march towards the end of the film and the senior concert is almost physically painful to watch. Sweeny goes from timid to confident to overzealous effortlessly. By the inevitable end there is almost a sense of relief that it is over.
Unsurprisingly, given the musical content, “Nocturne” pays special attention to score and sound editing. An important part of any scary flick, music plays a critical role in determining intent. “Nocturne” places out of tune, high pitched clips at poignant moments to add significance to seemingly ordinary moments and elevate already agonizing scenes.
That being said, the film benefits from an at-home viewing. Its production seems a little rough around the edges, and on the big screen the cracks would likely shine through. Still, “Nocturne” is the perfect scary movie to kick off a season of Halloween flicks.
Stream “Nocturne” on Amazon Prime starting Oct. 13.